The Taser's Edge

Own Your Slippers

Soon, I will indeed post something original. But, I’m reading stuff better than I could produce right now, so I’ll share.

This is an excerpt from midway through Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone, a novel which is (up to this point) about a small hospital in post-World War II Ethiopia and the lives of those who serve there.

The speaker below is Ghosh, a doctor who has recently barely escaped execution as a political prisoner in the wake of a failed coup against Emperor Haile Selassie (more famously known, even if you still didn’t know the name was a name, as Ras Tafari). Ghosh’s audience is his adopted identical twin sons, Marion and Shiva, the former of whom being the narrator of much of the novel.

I pulled this excerpt for how similar (purposely I’m certain) its ‘slippers’ are to the Jungian concept of ‘the shadow’. There is one set of the author’s ellipses in there. The rest [in brackets] are mine. And I think the story will give you a better sense of what it means to embrace your shadow than that Wikipedia page to which I linked:

“In prison, lights were out by eight o’clock. We’d each tell a story. That was our entertainment. I told stories from the books we read to you in this room. One of my cell mates, a merchant, Tawfiq–he would tell the Abu Kassem story.”

It was a tale well known to children all over Africa: Abu Kassem, a miserly Baghdad merchant, had held on to his battered, much repaired pair of slippers even though they were objects of derision. At last, even he couldn’t stomach the sight of them. But his every attempt to get rid of his slippers ended in disaster: when he tossed them out of his window they landed on the head of a pregnant woman who miscarried, and Abu Kassem was thrown in jail; when he dropped them in the canal, the slippers choked off the main drain and caused flooding, and off Abu Kassem went to jail…

“One night when Tawfiq finished, another prisoner, a quiet, dignified old man said, ‘Abu Kassem might as well build a special room for his slippers. Why try to lose them? He’ll never escape.’ The old man laughed, and he seemed happy when he said that. That night the old man died in his sleep.

“The next night, out of respect for the old man, we all lay in silence. No story.[…]

“The following night, we couldn’t wait to talk about Abu Kassem. We all saw it in the same way. The old man was right. The slippers in the story mean that everything you see and do and touch, every seed you sow, or don’t sow, becomes part of your destiny.[…]

“I never knew my father, and so I thought he was irrelevant to me. My sister felt his absence so strongly that it made her sour, and so no matter what she has, or will ever have, it won’t be enough.” He sighed. “I made up for his absence by hoarding knowledge, skills, seeking praise. What I finally understood in Kerchele [Prison] is that neither my sister nor I realized that my father’s absence is our slippers. In order to start to get rid of your slippers, you have to admit they are yours, and if you do, then they will get rid of themselves.”[…]

Ghosh sighed. “I hope one day you see this as clearly as I did in Kerchele. The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don’t. If you keep saying your slippers aren’t yours, then you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.

2 Comments so far
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I loved this post! What a powerful, meditative piece. I’ll be thinking/praying about this for awhile.

Matt Woodley

Comment by Matt Woodley

Thanks for the note, Matt. The writing definitely took hold of my reflections.

Comment by tasersedge

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