First, Take Care of Your Feet

October 19, 2015

On the eve of Shemini Atzeret, I surveyed the disarray in our kitchen and panicked as the clock raced towards candle lighting. Chicken soup sputtered on the stovetop. Challah dough rose on the counter. It looked like yom tov and it smelled like yom tov, but I’d been shaken to distraction by the terrible news out of Israel and had only just begun to prepare.

I was considering whether to order takeout when I glanced down at my tired, bedraggled feet. For a full month of Jewish holidays, I shopped, cooked, baked, and cleaned in an upright position, and my less than lovely paws – bunions, calluses and all – were the worse for wear.

I desperately needed a pedicure. The brisket and kugel would have to wait.

The funny thing is that pedicures are an indulgence I’ve never enjoyed, one I avoided for years. But because I insist on wearing flip flops everywhere, my husband began nudging me to take better care of my feet. When I ignored his subtler hints, he bought me gift certificates to a nail salon and I’ve gone regularly ever since.

I have yet to fall in love with the experience – I’m too ticklish for the buffing process, find the massage chair a kind of torture, and hate sitting idle for so long – but I’ll admit, finally, I’m happy with the results. And yet, I easily pushed off last month’s appointment, claiming I needed the time in the kitchen to prepare for the holidays.

Why then, I wondered as I drove to the salon, did I insist on going on the very eve of the festival, when the day was short and the work still long?

Moments after I slid my feet into the warm, soapy water, a very tall man in possession of the answer sat down in the chair next to me. Judging from external appearances, we had little in common – we hailed from different backgrounds, for starters, and he hadn’t left any unfinished yom tov cooking at home. But when he kicked off his shoes, he revealed an enormous pair of worn-out feet that mirrored my own, the size differential notwithstanding. I stared at our separate sets of soaking toes and knew they were cut from the same cloth.

I smiled at him. He grinned back.

“You gotta take care of your feet,” he said to me, “whatever else you’ve got going on.”

More enthusiastically than I would have expected, I told him I couldn’t agree more.
“Sometimes,” I added, like a sheep newly returned to the flock, “the feet get to go first.”

He nodded before putting on his headphones. I rested my head on the back of the chair, forgetting about what had to be done at home, glad that my son in Israel was safe in his yeshiva for the holiday, not out meeting friends in town. I even dozed for a spell, awaking to the thought that I’d done well coming to the salon that afternoon and letting the potato kugel wait until later. After all, these feet are the pedestals that keep me upright, even on days when the news makes it hard to breathe, let alone stand.

Back home, I put the brisket in the oven and set to grating the potatoes. My feet, I noticed, looked healthy, pretty even, in my flip flops. Meanwhile, a silly refrain ran through my head – healing soles, healing souls – even as the worry retook its place beneath my skin.