It had just stopped raining and Katherine (or Katie, as she preferred) was walking to school. She had her raincoat on over her school uniform, but didn’t bother with her rain boots, as she hated wearing them.
Usually, she loved to go out barefoot in the rain and take it all in, but as it was a school day, there would be no time for that.
The rain had come down hard, and Katie paid attention to the puddles as she walked to school so she wouldn’t accidentally step in any of them.
She stopped directly across the street from the all-girls school and waved at her friends who were waving back and motioning to Katie to come over.
After checking for traffic and then looking straight ahead, Katie started to cross. She noticed one of her friends pointing with a worried look and another with her hands covering her mouth, but it was too late. Katie stepped into a large, deep puddle in the gutter. Her entire foot sank in to just above her ankle. Before she could stop herself, Katie’s other foot went in, and both feet were submerged. She could feel the water soaking into her shoes and socks.
Although it was only a second or two before Katie jumped out of the puddle, her footwear was saturated. With a sickening sloshing sound, she trudged her way over to her friends.
“Are you all right?” one of them asked.
Before Katie could reply, the bell rang and the girls went into the building. In the coat room, Katie hung up her coat and immediately kicked off her shoes and peeled off her soaked socks. She rung them out in the sink, but they were too wet to wear to class. Katie had no other footwear with her. Her running shoes were at the gym, which was at a different location.
“What are you going to do?” her friend asked.
“I don’t know,” Katie replied a little panicked. She didn’t want to get into trouble, but she also didn’t want to miss most of the morning to go home and get dry shoes.
Katie placed her shoes and socks on the radiator. When the bell rang, she held her breath and quickly went into the nearby classroom to her desk. She wanted to get there before the teacher. Katie received a few inquisitive looks from her classmates before quickly explaining what had happened.
As she sat behind her desk, she realized that her bare feet could still be noticed. She quickly took off her cardigan and draped it over her lap so that it covered her feet. She had to admit that she liked the feeling of the sweater on her toes as she warmed up.
Suddenly, there was the all too familiar whack of the metal ruler on the teacher’s desk. It was Sister Elizabeth, the oldest and strictest Sister, who was also the school’s English teacher. All the girls returned to their seats and sat up straight as Sister Elizabeth, with her ruler in hand, slowly walked the aisle, conducting her daily inspection.
Katie sat up straight, holding her breath as always, but was especially nervous due to what she was hiding beneath the sweater draped over her knees.
The elderly Sister stopped at Katie and looked her over until her eyes stopped at the sweater in her lap.
“Are you cold?” she asked, in her usual monotone.
Katie looked up at Sister Elizabeth, making eye contact.
“Um, yes, Sister,” she replied quietly, trying to keep her tone as steady as possible, “I’m feeling a little bit of a chill.”
After studying Katie for a few seconds, Sister Elizabeth gave a sniff, and returned to the front of the class to begin the lesson. Katie couldn’t have been more relieved.
The next class came and went uneventfully as Katie kept her feet covered. Eventually the bell rang for recess.
During recess, Katie and her classmates usually stayed in the classroom without supervision. She took advantage of the situation by keeping her feet out in the open, crossing her legs as she chatted with her friends. Katie actually enjoyed walking across the room feeling the cool floor beneath her and standing on her bare toes as she gathered books she needed from a nearby shelf. From the corner of her eye, she even noticed a few envious stares from her friends.
Though a small part of her got a thrill from the risky experience of doing something that was against the rules, Katie was a little disappointed to discover that after sneaking into the coat room to check on her footwear, that they were still too wet to put back on.
Katie was able to get through the final two classes of the morning with her feet hidden behind the sweater and not getting caught. She did however have a close-call when the teacher called her to the blackboard to solve a math problem, but was literally saved by the bell when it rang for lunch, before she could react.
As her friends all went to the lunchroom, Katie sneaked into the coat room again to check on her footwear, which was still a little damp. She sighed in frustration while she prepared to eat her lunch in the coat room, hoping not to get caught.
Katie heard someone in the doorway behind her. It was too quiet to be one of her friends. Fearing that it would be one of the Sisters, especially Sister Elizabeth, she turned to see who it was, ready to face her fate.
Katie’s blood ran cold as it turned out to be none other than the Mother Superior, who was also the headmistress of the school.
The Mother Superior looked at Katie and glanced at the drying footwear on the radiator, before looking down at Katie’s bare feet. “Is there a problem?” she asked.
She was caught. With a sigh and a roll of the eyes, Katie involuntarily curled her toes inward as she explained the circumstances that led up to her being barefoot in school.
“I see,” the Mother Superior replied after Katie finished, “Well we certainly cannot have you running around here barefoot. This is a drafty old building and you will catch your death of a cold.”
She motioned to the corridor. ”You can have lunch with me and I am sure your shoes and socks will be dry by the time the lunch period is over.”
Katie was dumbfounded. She had never even spoken to the Mother Superior before, and now she was about to have lunch with her. She took her lunch bag and followed the Mother Superior to her office.
Katie was relieved that the Mother Superior’s office was carpeted, as the hardwood floor was starting to feel cold beneath her feet.
The two sat on opposite sides of the desk and ate mostly in silence. As she sat in front of the Mother Superior’s desk, Katie self-consciously covered one foot with the other, even though they were out of sight of the Mother Superior.
After they finished, the Mother Superior checked her watch. “Well,” she said, “you can stay here until the bell rings.”
“I must say,” she added, “I am somewhat surprised that you were able to go the entire morning without being caught by Sister Elizabeth.”
Katie shrugged and grinned sheepishly as she decided to keep her opinions of Sister Elizabeth to herself.
“However,” the Mother Superior continued somewhat sternly, “you must remember that Sister Elizabeth means well and only wants you and the others to know the differences between right and wrong.”
Katie knew the Mother Superior was right, and nodded in agreement.
The Mother Superior sat back in her chair and pondered for a moment. “You know, as a girl, I loved nothing more than to run barefoot through the fields.” She then looked at Katie. “Is that something you like to do?”
Katie was surprised at the question and even more at the Mother Superior’s personal revelation. Like many of her classmates, Katie often forgot that the Mother Superior, along with most of the other Sisters, were people who lived fairly normal lives before taking their vows.
“Well,” Katie replied, “I’m almost always barefoot at home; I love to go out in the backyard that way, and I really like going to the beach, just to walk on the sand and in the tide. Sometimes I just like to take short walks around the neighborhood, barefoot.”
“And why do you think that is?”
“I guess I like feeling the different textures under my feet,” Katie replied with a shrug.
“Would it be fair to say that you value the world He has created for us?”
“Yes, I guess I do,” Katie answered thoughtfully. She found herself relaxing and feeling less self-conscious.
The Mother Superior paused. “’Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.’ Are you familiar with that*?” she asked quizzically.
Katie thought for a moment before realizing the answer. “Exodus 3:5 – When Moses was instructed to remove his shoes before approaching the burning bush,*” she replied.
The Mother Superior was impressed. “Very good,” She replied with raised eyebrows.
Katie smiled and blushed slightly.
The Mother Superior leaned forward, clasping her hands together on top of the desk. “You know, in most religions, bare feet are regarded as a sign of humility and subjection. In certain convents such as Convent of Las Descalzas Reales, Poor Clares and Colettine Poor Clares, going barefoot is obligatory*.”
“There are even Christian congregations of men and women that go entirely barefoot or wear sandals,” she continued, “such as the Discalced Carmelites, the Trinitarians and the Passionists. It is even customary in Judaism and some Christian denominations to go barefoot while mourning*.”
All the while, Katie listened intently, as she had no idea of the significance of being barefoot and the important role it played in humanity.
“So you see,” the Mother Superior concluded, “there is no reason to be embarrassed about our feet or any part of our bodies for that matter. We just have to remember that there is a time and place for everything.”
She looked at her watch. “Well,” she said, “The bell will be ringing in a few minutes. I am sure your footwear is dry by now. You would best be getting along to class.”
Katie rose and walked to the door. She turned before leaving. “Thank you for your time, Mother Superior,” she said.
“It was a pleasure, my child.” She replied with a small smile, “Please close the door behind you.”
Katie went back to the coat room, where she checked on her shoes and socks, which were now completely dry. As the bell rang, she put them back on and joined her classmates for what would be an uneventful afternoon.
After the final bell, Katie said her goodbyes to her friends for the day and headed home. The rain had long since stopped and the sun was out.
When she got home, Katie hung up her coat, slipped out of her shoes and went upstairs. She stopped by the hamper, peeled off her socks and threw them in before going to her room.
Katie lay on her bed to take a short break before changing clothes and starting her homework. She crossed her feet and unconsciously wiggled her toes in thought.
Katie reached into her blouse and took out the small cross she always wore around her neck. She looked at her feet and back at the cross, and smiled.
*AUTHOR’S NOTE: The quotes and facts in this story are taken from the “Barefoot” article in Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.