Last week, I decided to polish my shoes. It has been a long time since I last did so, and it’s important to keep them polished. They last longer that way. It was one of the odd rituals of manhood instilled in me by my father. I can remember helping him polish his shoes as a child. He had a wooden shoe-shine box where he kept the supplies. The handle doubled as a stand for the shoe. Eventually as I kept my shoes longer, he showed me how to polish my own.
First, remove all visible dirt and debris with a soft brush, then apply the polish. Wait a few minutes and then buff. Repeat for additional shine. For added protection and moisturizing, I learned to apply mink oil, which gave my shoes a glossy shine. Once complete, take satisfaction in a job well done.
The message was clear, as a man, you take care of your possessions and your appearance. Learn to sew buttons, darn socks, even hem trousers. I have now owned the same pair of penny loafers for thirty years. If you look closely, you’ll know that they’ve been re-soled and re-heeled, but that’s the only real sign of their age.
But it’s getting to be more of a challenge. The last time I had my shoes worked on, I had to use a local dry-cleaner, as there are no cobblers in my area. The same seems to apply to tailors. Perhaps this is why people dress up so infrequently these days. There is something about wearing a suit tailored to your frame. Clothes off the rack have an element of shapelessness to them. But then, we live in a shapeless age.
It may seem strange to you to find a reflection on something as prosaic as shoe polishing with all of the screaming headlines demanding our action and attention. Perhaps, but I would submit that the discipline of keeping your shoes polished builds a frame of mind and character, badly needed. We would all do well to take care of those things entrusted tour custody, to minimize waste, and to present ourselves at our best, not merely for our own sake, but as a measure of respect due to others.
“He that is faithful in the least, he is also faithful in much: and he that is unjust in the least, is unjust also in much. If then ye have not been faithful in the wicked riches, who will trust you in the true treasure? And if ye have not been faithful in another man’s goods, who shall give you that which is yours?” Luke 16: 10-12 (Geneva)