Sunday, May 16, 2010


When there's a shine on your shoes
And a melody in your heart
What a wonderful way to start the day!

Click here to hear Tony Bennett sing

This is one of the almost 400 songs on my Mp3 player that I listen to while sweating my way through 45 minutes of heavy stationary cycling each morning.

Ok. So Tony Bennett dates me. I haven't even caught up with "The Boss," not to speak of the stunning Taylor Swift. Next great crooner? Michael Bublé! His incredible voice and tonal characterizations will put you on the edge of your seat.

Bennett's rendering of this song excites me not only because of the catchy tune and its upbeat message, but also because it's true.

I know it is true because of what I learned a few days after I volunteered for the Draft. In those days, that's how a lot of guys went into the military. I can tell you that I learned how to put a spit shine on my boots. And when I volunteered for the Airborne, I learned how to put a spit shine on my spit shine.

There was intense competition in the barracks. All of us wanted to "outshine" the other. We compared our shines and if one guy did it better that the others, we all wanted to know how he got that shine. Was he using a special brand of polish? Did he use a special brush stroke? Did he snap and pop the shine rag better than the rest of us? Or, maybe his spit had a special, mystical quality!

Then we all fell in for inspection by our DI (Drill Instructor). He stood in front of each man looking mean and tough. He examined helmet, shave, haircut, collar, tie, and uniform. Then with one blinding sweep of his hand he snapped our 9 1/2 pound M1 rifle (never a gun) from our hands like it was a toothpick, twirling it around to gaze at the breech, butt and barrel, examining for dust or dirt with microscopic vision.

But these were all preliminaries. The rifle was no big thing. Most of us could take it apart and put it back together in something under three minutes -- blindfolded!

What we really held our breath for was his appraisal of the shine on our boots. If he didn't like that, nothing else mattered. If he saw so much as a speck, he looked that soldier in the eye with an expession of pathetic disdain. His mouth twisted and his cheeks puffed with the portent and distinct possibility of puke all over a clean, starched uniform. Conversely, if he liked what he saw, he leaned over and whispered, "Squared away boots, trooper!" One could not dream of deeper affirmation than this. For the rest of the day and until the next inspection, no matter the sweat and strain, obstacle course or firing squad, you were euphoric.

I can tell you from personal experience, putting a shine on your shoes most emphatically puts a melody in your heart.

Moving on from life in boot camp to life in the frantic world of "Dancing with the Stars," cellphones, texting, video games, Wall Street, foreclosures, divisive politics, shootings in high schools and colleges, drugs and terrorism -- we might do well to put a shine on the shoes of how we deal with life in such a place. Sometimes life feels like an out-of-control locomotive plunging headlong into a tunnel with no light at the end. How do we find a way to rise above these things to a higher, more satisfying and secure plane of living?

Despite his announcement of impending crucifixion, Jesus was no pessimist. Although he may have had the qualifications for being a DI. I can easily picture him barking at the disciples, "Aw' right you weenies, for missing prayers this morning, drop and give me 20!" But he is the one who taught us of the Father who numbers the hairs on our heads as well as the stars in the heavens; the loving God who clothes the lilies of the field better than Solomon, yet cares for us more gloriously than these; the watchful Father who notices the fall of a sparrow, yet is far more engaged in the details of our lives. Jesus is the one who brings "life more abundantly" to those who believe.

Jesus had a shine on his shoes . . . Ok, sandals.

What was the point of Jesus' washing the feet of the disciples? Most Bible scholars conclude that Jesus was giving them an example of humility. Well, maybe. But could it have been that he was also preparing their feet to walk in his sandals? The ones with the shine?

Want to walk on a higher plane? Want to feel the tracks beneath your feet that will take you through the tunnel to the light on the other side? Jesus has a pair of spit shined shoes, er, sandals for you. Slip them on and your heart will sing!