“May your feet take you where your heart wants to go.” – unknown
When my mom went to the marketing seminar five years ago for a senior residence community she was considering moving to, I went along with her. In the presentation, they talked about how important care of the feet is for the elderly. Specifically the presenter mentioned an anecdote from Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal that what geriatricians often look at when they see a patient, regardless of the symptoms presented, are the feet. Because when the elderly don’t take care of the feet – if they are overly callused, have ingrown toenails, or have sores, it exposes them to falls. And falls for older people are hard to recover from and can cost them their independence.
I was chastened by the discussion because even though I was only in my late 40’s at the time and not in any particular danger of falling, I was taking terrible care of my feet. Case in point, the massage therapist I’d seen on and off for years had commented that I needed to shave down the corn on my left pinky toe and I’d replied, “Why? It’ll just grow back.”
And indeed it will but clearly I was missing the big picture – that feet need to be cared for, just like the rest of the body, repeatedly. In fact, my feet are a disaster. They have calluses from jamming them in rock climbing shoes and bone spurs sticking out of the top of my big toes, maybe from my hiking or climbing boots that restrict range of motion, and plantar fasciitis from all the dogwalking, hiking and climbing. And given that I like to be on my feet and walking, one would think that I would have learned earlier to care of these precious platforms on which everything else balances.
I read a delightful meditation on the foot by Frederick Buechner in Listening to Your Life: “I say that if you want to know who you are, if you are more than academically interested in that particular mystery, you could do a lot worse than look to your feet for an answer. …when you wake up in the morning, called by God to be a self again, if you want to know who you are, watch your feet. Because where your feet take you, that is who you are.”
And adding to that, I’d add that if you want to check in on how you are taking care of your body, we could check with our feet for evidence for how well we are doing. Because as the geriatrician in Atul Gawande’s book notes, they feel further away and harder to care for as we age.
What are your feet doing today?
(feet pictured are my own)