The last thing my mom asked me before I left for St. George, Utah, was, “Do you have your shoes?”
As facetiously as she had asked the question, I answered, “Yes.” Who would forget to take running shoes to a race?
Now it was 5:00 A.M., just before the start of the St. George Marathon, and I realized I hadn’t told my mom the truth.
Humility came quickly. I found myself begging. As the other runners were loading on the buses that would take them to the starting line of the 26-mile race, I was approaching strangers.
“Do you have any extra shoes?”
I got a few laughs, some sympathy, no shoes.
I started to feel nervous. I had trained for months and didn’t want to lose the opportunity to race just because I had forgotten my running shoes. But it didn’t take long to see that my chances of finding shoes were slim.
Anywhere around size nine and a half to eleven and a half, I thought, knowing I couldn’t be too picky.
One man heard my plea just as he was boarding the bus. He stepped out of line, walked several blocks to his parked car, and retrieved an extra pair of shoes.
“They’re good shoes, but I don’t use them anymore,” he said as he handed them to me. “You can keep them.”
My gratitude for this man didn’t take the pain out of my feet, protected during the race by shoes that were a half size too small. And, even though I don’t remember his name or where he was from, I will always remember the gift of his extra shoes that stretched my understanding of what service can be. He taught me that service isn’t always something we organize as an activity. Service is helping people who need assistance, whether it’s planned or not.
Although I didn’t have use for them after the race, it was years before I finally got rid of the snug-fitting shoes. To me they stood as a monument to a random act of service. The man didn’t have to give me his shoes. He could have boarded the bus to the starting line and never thought about me again. But he took the time to walk to his car and bring me his extra shoes. It was as though he had made the decision years ago to take advantage of every opportunity to serve.
I’ve been told not to judge a man until I’ve walked a mile in his shoes. After 26 miles of running that Saturday morning, I suppose I can judge the size 10 man who gave me his extra pair. He was willing to go out of his way to help me, without expecting anything in return. He didn’t want money. He didn’t even want his shoes back. He just didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to serve.