A Story for Our Time; Jellyfish.

If I was a caveman (or cavewoman) being chased by a sabre-toothed Tiger, I would not have time to look at the ground…

We didn’t mean to go to sea. Today it is full of jellyfish, far too many to want to get into the water for a swim, or anything else for that matter. I remember as a child jellyfish washing up on the beach where my grandma lived, they were usually about six inches across, just a transparent upside-down bowl of who knows what. Occasionally a really big one would wash up and my brother and I would get our spades and try together to throw it back into the sea. It always made me feel strange that they were there stranded on the beach, so out of place, like a shoe in a tree.

I feel out of place here in my little boat, and yet somehow I belong or I wouldn’t be here.  I am alone, except for my children; I haven’t seen anyone for months. My life has changed beyond recognition, the world is suddenly so much smaller. I think about words like Global, international, national, regional and local and can’t seem to find one that means just right where you are. There is no word for remaining in your own space, except perhaps at home, but that is two words anyway.

At home is not the right expression anyway, I don’t feel at home in my little boat, surrounded by strange silent see-through creatures that don’t look at me, they don’t talk to me, I don’t think they even know I am here, they don’t know that I am alive. I wonder what a jellyfish would say if it did talk?

I suppose I could try talking to the jellyfish, but it is hard to remain focused on one of them, they move around in the water, and there are so many, I could start talking to one, and just when I had got going I would lose sight of it and have to start again with another. I don’t suppose it would be all that different from talking to myself, or writing this.

I used to talk to myself a lot, but people would stare. As if it was something that they never did, eventually I learned not to do it in public, I think I must have internalised it, as I always have a continuous monologue in my head. I think I preferred it when I said it out loud, somehow that let it out. Sometimes it is tiresome and I wish it would just stop for an hour a day. If it is not a monologue then it is music or singing, which I prefer in many ways, unless it is some dreadful song that I have unintentionally memorised, playing in an endless loop.

I don’t want to have a monologue conversation with another human, I want to interact, for a little while. I want my mind to be on your joy or your troubles, not mine. I want to see your view for a few minutes or hours. I wonder if jellyfish have eyes. Are they looking at the beauty of the ocean? Do they judge what they see, or are they just beings, being jellyfish.

I am a human being, often a human doing, but lately just a being.

I stretch out my body every morning, I learned to do yoga about fifteen years ago, I still do the same program most days, it suits me. I hear the narrators voice in my head as I do the poses, reminding me of how to do the moves. I like her voice, it is almost as if I have company.

I am not lonely, it is something different to loneliness. It is somehow broader and richer than just pure loneliness. Loneliness is painful, this feeling has something of the ecstatic to it. I am a shoe in a tree, just hanging there, waiting, and watching; nothing is happening. Occasionally the wind blows me this way or that. And that is it, that is all. I once saw a tree full of shoes, I don’t remember where, it was in the middle of the countryside, all of a sudden a tree with the strangest leaves. But I am just one shoe in a tree all alone, waiting for all the other shoes to join me. Waiting for all the other shoes to discover me.


Where do all those shoes come from anyway? I think about all the mums looking at their children and asking: “where are your shoes?” And all the people walking home barefoot after throwing their shoes into the tree. Is it an act of footwear rebellion? Is it art? Or simply a desire to see a tree full of shoes and to know that you somehow contributed to it.

I once spent a whole year barefoot. I have had a very strange relationship with shoes my whole life. As a child my shoes were always too big. I think my mum was always expecting me to have big feet, or perhaps she liked to make the shoes have room for growth. That makes it sound like the shoes would grow, which would be a wonderful thing, I wonder if anyone has spent time trying to invent a shoe that grows with your foot. That would be splendid, that is if you liked the shoes.

I cannot bear uncomfortable shoes, and after many years of being fed up with footwear, and many years of spending spring, summer and autumn barefoot, I decided to see if I could go all year without shoes. Before I did this, my feet were cold all the time, and they were sore, I felt that I was getting old, my feet had lost their plumpness, that is, the padding on the soles that all children have.  I wonder if wearing shoes does this. In South America somewhere they call shoes blindfolds for the feet. After a few months without shoes I understood why. I walked everywhere bare foot and a very strange thing happened. I lived in a town at the time, which meant a lot of pavement walking. After about six weeks an entirely new phenomenon occurred, when I went to bed at night my feet would get so hot that I could not bear to have covers on them, I would have to get up two or three times a night to put them in cold water.

This went on for a couple of months at least, I started to worry that there was something wrong with my feet, and then one day I noticed that my feet were growing! Not in length, but in thickness, my feet grew back their padding! The burning sensation ended after about four months and I was very glad, and my feet were more comfortable than they had been for years. I would go walking in the fields and woods, and at first I was very slow, trying not to tread on thorns and thistles. Then one day I went for a walk on my own, out in the hills, the day was not as warm as I had expected and I was getting cold. One thing I learned in winter was that the body gets much colder without shoes, and one needs more clothes.  On this particular day I had not dressed warmly enough and it was raining and I had a very long way to go.

I hate being cold, so I sat down to consider what to do. I certainly did not want to be rescued because I had chosen to go out without shoes.  I thought about the countless generations of people who had spent their entire lives without shoes, or at least I imagined them. My Welsh Granny grew up in a village where a lot of the people had no shoes, she told me the teachers at her school would put a bit of their wages into a pot to pay for shoes for the children.

I thought back to prehistoric times. If I was a caveman (or cavewoman) being chased by a sabre-toothed Tiger, I would not have time to look at the ground, I would just have to run and look where I was going otherwise I would be highly likely to either be eaten by the tiger or accidentally run off a cliff while I was looking to see if there were thorns.

This just didn’t seem right to me. I had a radical thought, what if people didn’t look down? What if they just trusted their feet to lead them, this thought was influenced by the blindfolds for the feet comment. I decided to trust my feet.

I have always loved my feet, when I was in my teens I used to take photos of them!

I needed to walk a long way, and quickly, so I decided not to look at my feet at all, or at the ground. I walked for about a mile and decided that I must have got lucky, I was in the fields and so far had only stepped on nice soft grass. I looked down at the ground and couldn’t believe my eyes, I was completely surrounded by thistles, the whole field almost entirely consisted of thistles and I was in the middle of it. I instantly stepped on a thistle and half laughed half screamed. I had to convince myself to keep going, how was I going to walk out of this field without a million prickles in my feet? But somehow I did it. I trusted my feet to find their way, and they did.

They took me all the way home without any further mishaps. During that year I never looked down again to check the ground. Until one day when I was in a town, and I stepped on a piece of glass in the dark. I was a bit upset but as it was dark I couldn’t see how it had happened, when it got light I went back to look at the spot where I had trodden and I was amazed to find about twelve feet (no pun intended) of the pavement absolutely covered in broken glass, and I had walked right through it and only got one tiny bit in my foot.

Humans are incredible. I would like a pavement to walk on now. Or the fields or the woods, where there are people who can hug me, and laugh with me and marvel at our feet. Jellyfish don’t have feet, they will never understand the wonder of feet.


Jellyfish photo by Vino li on Unsplash
Shoe Tree by Jonathan Fox on Flikr

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