The Lessons Within the Shoes

Andreia Arai-Rissman


“The Lessons Within the Shoes” reveals the desire of a little girl whose dream was to choose her very own pair of sandals. As she remembers this part of her life, she unveils life lessons that she did not even know she had learned.


It was another sunny day in Brazil in the 1980s. I was a little girl who just wanted to wear skirts—full of life and energy. My nickname was Popcorn. I will let you fill in the blanks.

Since I was still small, my parents did not want me to wear flip-flops because I would end up barefoot and hurt my feet. 

It was that time again. My feet had grown. My dad took me to the only shoe store downtown to buy me new shoes. He held my hand and off we went! I bounced with every single step, chatting with my dad. Better to say, he would just listen to me.

Upon arriving at the store, my dad went directly to the basket of shoes in the front. He chose no-name jelly shoes for me—the shoes that my family could afford. He’d pick a colour, smile, and look at me for my approval. Dad always chose shoes that were much bigger than my current shoe size. No comment.

I would still go further inside the store and daydream about the shoes on display. After a while, my dad would call me and I’d run to catch up. 

The first lesson within the shoes revealed itself. The display window at the shoe store symbolized the divide between the rich and the less privileged.

When I got home, I put on those jelly shoes. I was still disappointed they were not the shoes I truly desired, so I ran and dragged those shoes around, hoping that they would tear so that I could go back to the same store, look at the display, and finally choose my very own pair.

Years went by and that memory faded, but the dream of picking my very own shoes came true without me even realizing it.

In the early 1990s, my dad became a dekassegui: a term used for an immigrant worker in Japan. My dad was an immigrant like his parents when they immigrated to Brazil, and just as I am here now in Canada. 

In the summer of  2019, guess what was trendy? Jelly shoes! When I saw them, I knew I had to buy them. I had to buy them for my daughter. Those jelly shoes brought me so much love and affection. I had such a connection to them, and I wanted my daughter to feel it too. Astoundingly, she simply wore them. 

The second lesson within the shoes revealed itself. I asked myself why my daughter’s reaction bothered me so much. I realized that those jelly shoes meant nothing to her. They were just shoes.

The third lesson within the shoes revealed itself. The best present my dad gave me at that moment in the 1980s was his company and his display of love. The reward for my dad was the money that he earned, so he could provide comfort for the family, but that came with a price. He missed seeing me wearing the new shoes I so desired. He missed various milestones and many of the joys of everyday life.

The fourth lesson within the shoes revealed itself. What we have and don’t have—it’s all impermanent. I might choose to buy the most expensive items, but then the question is why? Why am I trying to be trendy? What is the real price of it? How much do I have to work to purchase it?

It’s another sunny day, but this time, in Toronto, in 2022. I am teaching English at one of the colleges in Toronto. On the last day of class, an Iranian student turns to me and says thank you. I acknowledge it and ask why.

She replies: “Thank you for giving me hope. Thank you for showing that an immigrant can be successful in Canada and no matter what I choose to do, I can make it.” At that time, I saw her white Converse shoes: a blank slate to write her own story. 

The final lesson within the shoes revealed itself. I recalled the times my Dad took me to the shoe store to buy me those jelly shoes. Knowing deep inside that I wanted a different pair, he’d say, “Tomorrow will always be better.” 

Andreia Arai-Rissman is a Japanese-Brazilian-Canadian educator living in Toronto with her husband and two wonderful children. In her free time, she enjoys travelling, rock climbing, and trying new hobbies.

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