“But in time, stones and bits of glass,
and the paths in the rough earth
go on teaching the foot that it cannot fly,
cannot be a fruit bulging on the branch.
Then, the child’s foot
is defeated, falls
in the battle,
is a prisoner
condemned to live in a shoe.” –excerpt from Pablo Neruda’s To the Foot from Its Child as translated by Alastair Reid.
This beautiful poem by Neruda throws light on the sad and inevitable future of almost every child born in this world. Each one of us have dreams and unending imaginations of how we all see ourselves in the future, but somewhere in the back of our mind we somehow know that its mostly not going to be that way. Just like a child’s foot, which is unaware of its physical state and inability to fly or be a fruit on a branch, faces harsh realities of life and is finally ‘condemned to live in a shoe’.
What is this shoe? Is it our family, friends, our responsibilities? Or does it just mean the shoe, literally? I would like to think of this ‘shoe’ as the box we all live in. A box that limits our imagination, and far from being a place of comfort, is a boundary, a limitation to our capabilities. A box that does not let us reach our fullest potential, and condemns us to a life like everyone else’s. And yet, we cannot help but be pushed into this box and become a slave of life’s treacherous plan. We cannot fight back, and when we try to, we realise that we are pushed far deep into the box that it’s almost impossible to get out of it. Just like the foot, we are all forced to live in that shoe.
“Thinking outside the box is just thinking inside a bigger box”. I could not agree more. We are all embedded in this society in a way that its influence reaches our unconscious. Without our conscious knowledge, we fulfill the societal norms, everything that the society wants us to do, and in case we don’t, society finds its own way of getting things done. We are so scared of breaking the norms, of going against the wishes of the society that we repress our wishes, our dreams, and our unending imaginations and reduce them all to something immediately available and closely related to this material world.
In the end, we all end up being like those unused toys of a child that are forced into a box, expected to live in it, forever, with our dreams being reduced to dust outside the box, kept in the darkness of the attic, and the dreamless dust being cleaned and thrown away once a while, at the same time reminding us that we are mere puppets of life’s treacherous plan. And who knows, in the end, the box might just be opened and the toys taken out with new dust all over so another child can play with them, or, in Neruda’s words, the foot might just be born again as a butterfly or an apple.