Serendipity. Searching for one thing and finding another. And another. The Internet is a beachcomber's delight. While researching my Johari Window post, I found information on Duen Hsi Yen's commentary, which led me to his article on education, which in turn took me to another of his sites, which was chosen in May of 1999 as the Natural Child Project's Parenting Site of the Month. Investigating the Natural Child Project site led in turn to this month's honored parenting resource, Parents for Barefoot Children.

(This is beginning to sound like something from A Fly Went By: "The fly ran away in fear of the frog, who ran from the cat, who ran from the dog. The dog ran away in fear of the pig, who ran from the cow, she was so big!")

I don't know when I first rediscovered what every child knows about the joys of barefoot living. I do remember the first time I thought consciously of what shoes can do to feet besides protect them. In one of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, the dectective concludes that a footprint belongs to a native of a primitive culture, because the shape of the foot and the toeprints revealed a foot that had never been confined to a shoe.

That impressed me, but I never really questioned my footwear until I developed an affliction of the skin of my feet. No doctor ever came up with a definitive diagnosis, though that did not stop them from suggesting various medications, which either worked or didn't according to some random factor I never discerned. What unequivocally did work I discovered myself: shedding my shoes. If I kept my feet unshod whenever I could, they obliged me by enduring occasional imprisonment with good grace.

Since then I've been happy to remove my shoes when entering a home, and I've noticed in recent years many people are discovering that shoes left at the door don't bring dirt into the house. In this we are only a few thousand years behind the entire country of Japan.

Naturally an organization calling itself Parents for Barefoot Children (PFBC) intrigued me. So, too, did the Society for Barefoot Living, which (no surprise) I found through a link from the PFBC site. The latter takes barefooting a lot further than I thought possible. Along the way I learned several new things, from the many health benefits of walking sans shoes to the surprising legality of driving barefoot.

Although I am in sympathy with both organizations, especially when it comes to children's feet, two issues concern me that I have not seen addressed. The more trivial (though still important) one is that if one goes barefoot everywere, one has nothing to take off that will leave the dirt at the door of the house. Perhaps we should reinstate the Biblical custom of footwashing for guests!

What bothers me most is the chemical soup to which we would expose our feet by walking barefoot most of the time. The barefooting advocates address the issues of dirt, bacteria, and parasites, but what I worry about is what is laid down on our roads, sidewalks, business floors, and even public parks by automobile exhaust and tires, chemical spills, cleansers and polishing materials, herbicides, insecticides, and the other fallout from a modern industrial society. Everything from heavy metals to toxic organic compounds lies in wait to be absorbed through innocent skin, a special worry in the case of children. I don't want this to be a problem; I hope research will reveal an escape clause that will assure me it isn't harmful. But the issue needs to be addressed, not ignored.

The joys of free and unfettered childhood feet should not be yet another casualty of modern times!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 7, 2006 at 2:45 pm | Edit
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One solution in summer months and dry days is soft leather shoes like Robees and Buskins (and other brands.) This does not protect from sharp hazards, but does for dirt and chemicals. We bought Jonathan his first hard-soled shoes when he was 14 months old so he could have something to wear on slushy/wet days.

Posted by joyful on Tuesday, August 08, 2006 at 3:51 pm
I rember carefree Summer days of going barefoot as my best childhood memory. I am making sure my own children experience the same!

Posted by Dee on Friday, March 09, 2007 at 1:21 am
Great! Here's to Liberated Feet!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 09, 2007 at 9:22 am
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Date: March 10, 2007, 10:12 am