Let us pray none of us ever have to walk in the shoes of a parent who lost a child to the horrors of a mass shooting by an AR-15 rifle, its devastation so complete that the only way to identify their mutilated offspring is through their footwear.
A familiar pair of green Converse shoes on a little 10-year-old girl’s feet turned out to be the only clear evidence that could identify Maite Rodriguez after the Ross Elementary School shooting because of the sheer violence inflicted by an AR -15.
What a weapon designed for war does to children with small bones and limbs made the process of identifying them agonizing.
At times impossible.
Sometimes shoes are all there is.
Matthew McConaughey Powerful Appeal For Gun Control
Yesterday an impassioned Matthew McConaughey a native of Uvalde, Texas spoke about the victims at an emotional news conference at the White House.
10-year-old Maite Rodriguez, we learned, was a lover of animals and the environment. She dreamed of becoming a marine biologist. She often wore a pair of green high-top Converse sneakers with a heart drawn in marker over her right toes.
As a choked-up McConaughey shared this child’s story, his wife Camila Alves McConaughey held up the green sneakers for all to see.
Shoes say more than words ever can.
Maite will never outgrow those converse sneakers.
Artifacts Are Important Storytellers
Seeing that pair of ordinary green Converse high tops, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the discarded shoes displayed at various Holocaust memorials.
Shoes that could speak when their victims can’t.
Not long after the U.S. Holocaust Museum opened in 1994, I traveled with my husband and his small family to Washington DC to see this important museum that memorializes victims and artifacts. To stand there with them, some of who were Holocaust survivors themselves, and bear witness was powerful.
In a museum filled with artifacts, nothing quite prepared me for the display of discarded shoes.
On the second floor as we walked through a glass corridor, several panes etched with the names of scores of towns that were wiped out, we entered a darkened room that was filled with shoes.
Remnants of lives spilled one on top of each other.
Old shoes. New shoes. Worn shoes. Some were scuffed from extensive use. Some seemed hardly worn. Black leather shoes. Brown cloth shoes. Men’s shoes. Women’s shoes. Dress shoes, loafers, and high heels all piled in a disordered heap.
Shoes of young lives that never had a chance.
They were a visual reminder of lives lived in these shoes, lives lost and the horror they endured.
Hundreds of them. Arranged in a heap ten or twelve inches deep covering the two hundred square foot floor except for a narrow path that you walk through to go to the next room.
These were ordinary shoes belonging to ordinary people who lived ordinary lives. Like any one of us.
The shoe room breaks everyone’s heart, even if it’s just a little bit.
Like the green Converse sneakers
Shoes carry meaning.
They ground us in the world. They transport us. They make the world accessible to walk the ground beneath us and experience the environment.
Shoes give hints to a person’s character and are a deep form of self-expression, of personal style as they were to a little girl in Texas who as an environmentalist chose green, her favorite color. Shoes that will never serve their intended purpose again.
Shoes offer a very powerful metaphor both for how we miss the victims who once filled those shoes and also for how we see ourselves wanting to walk in their place, seeking change, so that others don’t have to walk this painful journey.
In 2018 thousands of shoes were placed on the lawn of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. as part of a protest against school shootings. Families of gun victims traveled to Washington to participate. The display of worn shoes, which were intended to draw Congress’ attention to children who have died from gun violence, was inspired in part by memorials to the Holocaust.
But the shootings continued.
There are children missing from our history that shouldn’t be missing.
Congress has lost its moral footing. Children slaughtered to the point of non-recognition by a weapon designed for war. It is time we put our foot down and demand action from our elected leaders.
Tragically, 10-year-old Maite Rodriguez will never outgrow her green High Tops. I pray that we outgrow our hesitation to create sensible gun laws.
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