The prince is fine, of course, as is the magical pumpkin-carriage and the fairy godmother and the castle and the happily-ever-after. But fairy tales are full of happily-ever-afters. And they all have magic and castles and, usually, princes of some sort or another. What the story of Cinderella has that’s different is shoes. Beautiful shoes, of course – glass slippers, according to Disney’s telling, which is taken from Perrault’s 17th century version of the story; earlier iterations of the story had shoes of gold or silver or white squirrel fur – but it’s not their beauty that makes them special. What makes them special is that they are made for and uniquely fitted to the feet of Cinderella. They are her shoes; they can only be fit into and worn by her. Unlike other magical objects of myth and fable – magic wands, enchanted swords, golden rings of power – Cinderella’s shoes are only magical when they are on her feet.
I thought of this when I fitted the first shoe on the first child that I sat down with in Dufrene, a community in the mountains of Haiti that I visited a few months back with CrocsCares, Feed The Children and Ladies’ Home Journal. We were surrounded by shoes – Crocs, of every imaginable size, shape and color – and by other children and – even though we were way up in the mountains, far away from the sound and chaos of Port au Prince – by an escalating buzz of noise. But in that moment, that first moment, of crouching down before this tiny little boy with scarred and dirty feet swimming in worn, overlarge shoes, the sound and the activity around us seemed to fade away and there we were: me, kneeling before him, tiny perfect shoes in hand, and him, clutching the hand of his big brother – the two of us, a latter-day gender-swapped prince and Cinderella.
Crocs are not glass slippers – they are not even shoes of white squirrel fur, which I’m pretty sure that you can get at Saks – but for a child who has never had a pair of shoes of his very own, shoes that fit his feet properly, as if they were made for him, Crocs are as magical and powerful as the slippers that changed Cinderella’s life. Proper fitted shoes enable a child to walk properly; every parent knows this. For a child in Dufrene, who has to walk an hour over rocky mountain roads to get water, proper fitted shoes are lifesavers. They make the ordinary, everyday challenges of living possible. That the little girls whose feet we fitted with bright pink or purple ballet-slipper Crocs thrilled at the prettiness of their new shoes – the first new shoes they’d ever owned, as beautiful to them as Cinderella’s glass slippers would have been to her – was just an added heart-lift.
There’s much that could be said here about the things – like shoes – that we take for granted until we are confronted by someone else’s lack of those things. There’s much, too, that could be said here about how it feels to step into that lack and to do something about it. But those are old and obvious stories – as old and obvious as evil stepsisters and fairy godmothers – stories that you’ve heard before. Our shoe drop in Haiti is not a fairy tale; no wands were waved, no carriages conjured, no castles loom promising in the distance. The children, the hundreds of them that we fitted with shoes that day, will continue their lives in conditions that are at some considerable remove from our own. And we will – I will – remain in my own castle with my own children with our closets full of shoes. We will remain here with greater awareness and greater understanding and a much keener interest in doing something, anything, whenever we can, to make a difference, but still. We will be here, and they will be there, and our stories will continue to diverge.
And yet. The magic of the Cinderella story that we participated in in Haiti is a real magic, and it is a magic that goes further than life-altering shoes. That magic resides in hope: the hope that small differences yield big dividends, the hope that one smile turns into more smiles, the hope that that one moment in which someone knelt down and offered the shoe that fit ripples forward in a million tiny magical ways. The hope that there is some good – some real, meaningful good, whether that means just (just!) healthy feet or something more – in the ever afters of all of the Cinderellas that we served that day.
There is that hope. That hope is everything.
You can help spread the hope. You can join the “5000 likes 5000 shoes” initiative. You can tweet about the 5000 likes 5000 shoes initiative. You can have a look at what my fellow travelers – Nicole and Jennifer – wrote about their experiences on that trip. You can also pick up this month’s Ladies’ Home Journal and read about the story there, and also find out more about what you can do to help foster hope.
And you can think about these Cinderellas the next time you buy a pair of shoes, and be thankful.