The importance of ritual


It sounds simple but one of my favorite rituals is my Sunday evening shoe polishing. I haven’t done it for a while but last Sunday I did. There is just something very rewarding and deep down satisfying about the ritual.

A bit of a back story

The shoes I’m referring to are my Doc Marten’s boots. I had quite a fiasco with these last spring. I actually returned 5 pairs before I managed to get a pair I was close to satisfied with. I’m generally an easy-going guy and not too hard to please but these boots kept giving me fits.

With my first pair the finish started peeling off after about 2 months. The second, third, and fourth pair had the same issue. None of them went longer than a month before I noticed some problems developing with the finish. Don’t know if my expectations were too high? The fifth pair lost two eyelets on the second day I wore them.

Now some people would have just assumed that Doc Marten’s had gone to the dogs and asked for a refund. It had become personal that this point though. I wasn’t going to give up until I got a pair that I could be satisfied with. Pair number six was that pair.

They aren’t perfect. The finish is deteriorated a bit on the toes. They are sized way big. I bought a size smaller than I usually wear and they are still too big.  They are super comfortable though and remind me of a time in my younger days when I would have loved to wear these but couldn’t afford to. Maybe I bought into the hype or maybe I’m just nostalgic for a time when I was young and full of expectations and potential.

There is something about all the trouble I had to go through to get them that makes them more meaningful to me.

More than just shoes

They are more than just a comfortable pair of shoes. That’s the back story to the Sunday night ritual. The act of polishing has been elevated from a mundane chore to a victory celebration, an act of love, and an acknowledgment of spirit and determination.

When I sit down with the shoes on Sunday night they show all the signs of a week’s worth of wear. They are dirty and scuffed. The toe shows signs of wear and rubbing, and the sides of the heels have scratches and scrapes.

I don’t mind the wear. Shoes begin to take on an identity after a time. The creases and scuffs and scrapes are unique to each pair and bear witness to the owner’s patterns of movement through space. The shoes are shaped by the scrapes and bruises of life the same way their owner is.

The ritual

I carefully remove the laces and wind them up around my fingers. I set them aside. I use a slightly damp piece of old t-shirt which is impossibly soft from years of wear to wipe up any dirt from the surface. Once clean all the scratches and scuffs really stand out.

Next to me is a can of black waxy shoe polish and two small squares of folded up t shirt. One for putting on the polish and one for buffing it off. I always start at the toe. I wipe on the black waxy polish in small circular motions. I move to the sides. Then the heels. And finally the tongue. After both shoes are done I let them sit for a few minutes.

With fresh cloth in hand I gently buff off the excess wax. The transformation begins. I don’t know what it is but there is something about this moment of transformation that I always love. The shoes emerge as something different. It’s not just that they are shiny. They are refreshed.

They don’t look new. They still have scuffs and scratches and creases. They won’t ever look new again. Nor would I want them to. They still bear witness to their use but they also are renewed in a way that helps to make me ready for a new week.

I think Sunday nights for me have always been about wiping off the dirt of the week and polishing up the scars and wrinkles that have accumulated over many. This one simple ritual becomes a metaphor for that. It allows me to in a real physical way wipe things clean again and start anew.

On Monday morning when I tie on my shiny old Doc Martens I always smile. If my shoes have made it through another week and are ready to take the wear and tear of another one I am too.

How about you?

What gets you ready for Monday?  What small rituals help you celebrate and extend your life?