Bill said he needed a new pair of shoes. He said his old ones were falling apart. He said how wearing them hurt his feet.
I said, “Then go buy yourself a new pair of shoes. You got the money for new shoes, don’t you?”
Bill said he had enough money for a few new pairs of shoes.
“Then go buy yourself a new pair of shoes,” I repeated.
“I dunno,” he said.
“What don’t you know?” I asked.
“Why don’t you get me a new pair of shoes?” Bill asked. “I’ll give you the money.”
“Well, I guess I could take you to get a new pair of shoes,” I said.
“I can’t,” Bill said. “My feet ache too much in these old shoes to leave the house.”
“Try,” I told Bill. “You must try, regardless of the pain.”
“Why won’t you choose a pair for me and use the money I give you?” Bill insisted. “It’s a small thing to ask of a friend. I’ll be satisfied with whatever you choose for me.”
I said, “Cause nobody knows what you need better than you do, Bill. You’ll want to see what there is to choose from. And you’ll want to try them on to see how well they fit.”
“I wear a size 10,” Bill said.
“Doesn’t mean any size 10 will fit like a size 10,” I said.
I knew behind his veil of ignorance that Bill understood. I felt like a fool for having to explain.
“If they don’t fit, I’ll wear them anyway. And I’ll be grateful and satisfied no matter what,” he said.
“If they don’t fit, they’ll hurt like your old ones.”
“I don’t care,” Bill said. “I’ll live with it. I’m used to living with aching feet.”
“What do you even want or need? Work boots or dress shoes?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“You haven’t thought about it? You’ve had plenty of time to think about what you want, but you don’t know?”
“I thought you could decide for me. You can see how I live. You should have some idea of what I need.”
“No,” I said.
“You’re not a very good friend,” Bill said. “I know of plenty of guys that would do it for a friend.”
“I guess you need better friends,” I said.
“Maybe,” Bill said.
I assured Bill, “You can think. It’ll be good to think. It’ll be good to leave the house, even it’s just for some new shoes. I’ll even take you there myself. But that’s as far as my friendship extends.”
But Bill refused to understand how encouraging thought and choice was a roundabout act of friendship.
“If you choose my shoes for me, I’ll be eternally grateful,” he said. “I’ll never let you forget how wonderful my new shoes are. Every time I put them on I’ll be reminded of what a good friend you are and how you were instrumental in getting them for me. I’ll sing the praises of your generosity. That will be my gift in return for you choosing my new shoes.”
Still, I refused.
“You don’t like being generous?” Bill asked.
“No,” I said.
“No,” I repeated.
Bill was old. But not too old.
I told Bill, “Imagine somebody complimenting you on your nice, new shoes. You pick them out and you’ll be able to take all the credit.”
“I’d rather give the credit to you,” Bill said. “That’s what a good friend I am, willing to give you all the credit for my new shoes. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
“No,” I said.
“I assure you,” Bill said. “Even if someone judges my new shoes as hideous, I will extol you as a very kind and generous man and that your kind and generous heart, though perhaps not your aesthetic sensibility, was in the right place. I promise to extol your kindness and excuse any lapse in aestheticism.”
“I cannot,” I told Bill.
So Bill decided he wouldn’t get the new pair of shoes he needed. He decided to go on living with his old shoes and aching feet.