February 24, 2012

Walking in the shoes of others

By Deacon Patrick Moynihan *
A couple months after we graduated from college, a friend and I crisscrossed the US in search of everything US. We chose our destinations daily based on the closest piece of national culture we could find that lay in the right direction. We sought the high, the low and the food to match. The only pre-determined decision was to drive 400 miles each day without fail. Most days, we saw at least two things of note.

We visited Hemingway’s grave in Ketchum, ID—better known today as Sundance. We passed through Carmel where we purposely got a parking ticket in order to get Clint Eastwood’s mayoral signature. We appreciated the neoclassical city squares that are sprinkled throughout the Midwest. We took in Big Art—two story prairie dogs and VW Bug sized strawberries—along the way and ate at plenty of diners. I even played a few hands of blackjack at Caesar’s Palace while my friend circled the colossal hotel with the car.

By far, the high point of the national trek was pulling into Memphis to visit Graceland on the tenth anniversary of Elvis’s death. I graduated in 1987, so our timing was more luck than anything else. However, given the focus of our trip, it seemed only natural to arrive at the King’s pad at a high point in its international appeal. The place was alive with people from around the world. Tours were being given more than half dozen languages.

What I remember most about our visit to the mecca of Rock-n-Roll was a 20 minute documentary called “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.” The film tells the story of Elvis’ journey from an unknown gospel singer from Tupelo with uniquely versatile hips to the King of Rock-n-Roll. Having just walked down a long hall plastered with his gold records and platinum albums, we were arguably predisposed to appreciate just what an amazing climb the King had made. However, I was still not prepared for the impact the film had on me.

At the end of the film, I sat back in my seat thinking, “Wow! The King of Rock-n-Roll really never got over being unseated by the British invasion led by the Beatles.” I also appreciated for the first time that Elvis really wanted a serious acting career. Somehow what I had always thought to be a rather tawdry death in a bathroom of a has-been became the tragic end of a king trying to stay vital, relevant. The quick documentary had lived up to its title—I had walked a mile in Elvis’s shoes.

This memory of visiting Graceland came to me the other day while I was putting on my oldest son’s boots. Hand-me-ups are one of the benefits of having sons who outgrow you before they leave home. As I laced up Robert’s boots to do some work, the thought occurred to me that I would be literally walking in his shoes. My mind immediately returned to Graceland and the Elvis documentary.

There is one other time that walking in another shoes meant more than a cliché to me. It was again with Robert. He was ten. I had just returned from observing a tumultuous day of marches and riots in the streets of Haiti. Exhausted, I sat down and kicked of my dusty sandals. Robert said matter-of-factly, “Dad, you should keep these sandals. I want to wear them when I grow up.” His words punctuated the moment while raising to a higher plane the concept of wearing another’s shoes.

Those sandals are gone. And it appears that the shoes Robert, who is now at West Point, will eventually fill will be bigger than any I have worn—which was exactly what I was thinking when I put on his boots. And, that’s how I ended up back at Graceland.

Deacon Patrick Moynihan graduated Culver Military Academy in 1983, from Brown University with BA in Sanskrit and Classics in 1987, and from Providence College with an MA in Religious Studies [Theology] in 1999.

He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.

Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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