May 5, 2013 in Features

Paul Turner wonders why the lowly foot gets taken for granted

We’re gaga about cute noses, bouncy hair and six-pack abs
By The Spokesman-Review
 

You’ve heard, of course, that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  

  The credit for that fateful stride usually goes to courage or determination.  

Fine. But how about a little love for our feet?  

Face it. You’re probably not going anywhere without them.  

Ours is a society obsessed with bodies. We’re gaga about cute noses, gravity-defying breasts, bouncy hair, six-pack abs and shapely butts. But the lowly foot gets taken for granted.

Maybe that’s because our feet seem so far away. Well, except in yoga and Odor Eater extraction contexts.

We’re up here and they’re way down there.

Our personal identities are inextricably connected to our faces and heads. Our sexuality’s forward base of operations can be found a bit lower.

But our feet?

“Hey, Hoss, could you move those dogs — they’re blocking my view of the TV.”

Sure, there are people who spend a lot of money on shoes. There are those who get pedicures and paint their toenails. And there are individuals gripped by fetishes that have nothing to do with, shall we say, determining which little piggy went to market.

But for most of us who enjoy good health and do not walk through minefields, our feet are an afterthought. They’re something to put up after a hard day at work. They are something to keep on the ground when uncertainty swirls about you.

They’re under the desk. They’re down there by the gas pedal and brake. They are beneath the covers, startling a bedmate with their cadaveresque temperature.

They are often out of sight, out of mind.

Until, that is, something goes wrong.

Few things in everyday life instantly focus your attention quite like smacking your toes into a table leg in the dark. The word “stub” seems underpowered as a description, especially in view of the colorful commentary such incidents elicit.

Accidentally kicking an unforgiving desk in the middle of the night might be nature’s way of saying “Your feet are important — take care of them.”

An architecturally impressive web of dozens of bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves and sweat glands, the foot facilitates bipedal locomotion and gives you something to get in the door at that promising start-up where you want to work.

Your feet allow you to dance, punt, skate, keep time with a bluegrass song and cheat at golf.

They give you something to be swept off of in case your life suddenly resembles a rom-com movie.

They are the antidote to couches and web surfing.

They allow you to express amorous intentions under the dining table. They frame the water when you lift your head while lying on a beach towel.

Lots of things can go wrong with feet, of course. You probably know the list. Saying “Feet, don’t fail me now” is no guarantee of hassle-free ambulation.

The amazing thing is that these painful, occasionally immobilizing inflammations and breaks don’t occur more often.

Just think about what your feet have to do. You are not a toy soldier, after all, affixed to a broad base that keeps you reliably upright. You just have the two modest platforms below your ankles. And they have to support all of you.

Sometimes that’s a lot to bear.

More than a few of us could be described as heaping helpings of human on the hoof. It blisters the imagination to picture those little bones and strands of connective tissue allowing even a wisp of a person to, say, run or walk across Spokane on a springtime Sunday morning.

The Beatles probably weren’t thinking of podiatry when they wrote song lyrics. Still, if the running shoe fits.

Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight

Carry that weight a long time

From taboos to sacramental washing, world cultures and religions relate to feet in a variety of ways. But in everyday Inland Northwest life, feet are mostly asked to facilitate motion and balance.

That alone deserves a salute.

But these complex extremities are not just marvels of physiology. They are expressive symbols as well.

We might take their actual function for granted. But they have been laced up with a lively metaphorical role in American conversation.

“He shot himself in the foot during the job interview.”

“She was going to wear that low-cut number, but she got cold feet.”

“Well, is the city going to foot the bill?”

“I think her lawyer is playing footsie with the plaintiff.”

“I got off on the wrong foot with him.”

“Son, I really think you need to put your best foot forward on this.”

And so on.

Whether it’s one person listening to you in the kitchen or a theater full of moviegoers, audiences can relate to the essential unpretentiousness of foot images and issues.

Remember John Candy’s character removing his shoes on the airliner in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”?

Or the whole ransom-note toe theme in “The Big Lebowski”?

Or the episode of “Mad Men” featuring the riding mower accident?

Maybe on some level we recognize that our feet aren’t just something we stuff into ruby slippers or wedge onto high heels. They are foundational in every sense. When it’s time to stand up and be counted, they are the first to follow the heart’s orders.

Of course, some of the best people in the world do not have feet. A few are born without them. Others lose them to violence.

Life goes on. Prosthetics help.

As countless returning soldiers and a growing number of athletes have demonstrated, the indomitable human spirit, not traditional legs and feet, is what makes a person inspiring.


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