August 11, 2016, Israel
The Truce by Primo Levi
You need shoes. We all needs shoes. I mean this in a literal sense and in a symbolic sense. Shoes are important for walking. Shoes are also symbolic of a foundation. It is what we step on, how we walk, how we move forward in our life journey. Any soldier knows that good proper shoes are vitally important. Papers have been written on the different quality of German, Russian and American shoes and socks during World War Two and the effect they may have had on the outcome of the war. Yes, it is that important.
To me shoes also symbolize the bass line, the backbone, the foundation of everything else we do.
Primo Levi in The Truce writes about shoes. After the liberation from Auschwitz they had to walk a long way, his shoes fell apart. my shoes were finished...one of the soles came off, the stitching came undone... His friend, "The Greek", reprimanded him. Losing one's shoes constitutes a disaster, nothing less.
How old are you?
Twenty five, I replied.
What do you do?
I am a chemist?
Then you are a fool. A man who has no shoes is a fool.
In other words, you are old enough and educated enough to know that you need shoes. If you have not drawn that conclusion on your own, well then, you are a fool! (perhaps a very educated fool).
Primo, rather than getting upset, accepted this rebuke. "Few times in my life have I felt such concrete wisdom weigh upon me." The man is a chemist, a brilliant man, yet he accepts this advice and rebuke as great wisdom; wear shoes!
Yes, a wise man is a humble man. "There was little to say in reply. The validity of the argument was manifest..."
Levi asks himself if he is really entitled to his liberty. i.e. a man who does not take care of himself may not be entitled to freedom and liberty. Think about that. One must earn his freedom, a fool has not earned his freedom.
Levi ponders the man's words. The "Greek" continues to explain that despite being very sick and having spent this time in Auschwitz, he managed to get a few items, most importantly shoes. "That is foresight; yours is stupidity. It's a failure to understand the reality of things." (The Truce, Primo Levi, pages 231-233).
Let us learn from this episode, let us apply it to our own lives.
Our "shoes" is Krav Maga, self defense, home security, a good car. How old are you? Twenty five? then you are old enough to know that you need to take care of yourself. What is your professional training? A chemist? then you have the intelligence to know that you should protect yourself. You have not started Krav Maga training? you have not looked into home security? Then I am sorry but you are fool. Case closed. Now be like Primo Levi and admit that never in your life has such concrete wisdom hit you.
The Greek seemed to doubt that a man so foolish as to not arrange for himself a pair of shoes was entitled to liberty. If a man does not take up self defense training, if a man does not take the basic safety precautions, if a woman enters a plane wearing a mini skirt and high heels (thus endangering all the passengers in the event of an emergency evacuation) are such people entitled to Liberty? The Greek seemed to doubt it.
Sick, tired, high fever, Auschwitz, a temperature of 104 but one thing he knew was that he needed shoes, and a few other things. So I got my shoes..
The Greek then took out some materials from his sack, his survival kit, and fixed Levi's broken down torn shoes. The two men proceeded in silence.