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Sometimes it is hard to know what we want -- shoes, or a life?

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Wednesday, April 21st, 2004 — Yesterday I went shopping for a pair of walking shoes, shopping locally, of course. I tried on several pairs, ruled out some, and then went home -- not with one pair but three. And I didn't get what I needed.

Forget about trying to walk in someone else's shoes. I can't even find a good fit for my own.

One pair was nice looking but not comfortable. Another was quite comfortable but something I would never wear. The third was a beautiful pair of high-heeled shoes I would have loved several years ago but can't even stand in now -- much less walk.

So, what happened?

I could blame it all on my feet, but my feet are not the real issue.

In fact, this shopping nightmare is not just about shoes. I have to confess that I am a sucker for slick merchandising. Put something in front of me, and suddenly that is the very thing I have always wanted.

My husband, Pat, is no help at all. "Clothes? You've gotta have em."

There is no more to it than that. Let's move on. Not all women have this problem. One of my friends, who is the most elegant woman I know and always impeccably dressed, says, "I just do whatever is simple."

Why didn't I think of that? Instead I can turn the simplest shopping trip into a quest for the Holy Grail. In the meantime, my friend looks wonderful, and I am walking around like a zombie looking for -- who knows what?

Then the guilt sets in -- not just for buying things I don't need. Shoes can be returned if I have the nerve to face the poor saleswoman, who I can imagine will run the other way as soon as she sees me coming. My real regret is that I have spent so much time at something that I know is not worth it. Shoes? Sure, I have to have them, but no number of perfect pairs of shoes makes a life.

When I die, I don't want my tombstone to read: "She had a really great pair of walking shoes."

I know that buried beneath this not-so-funny indecisiveness there is a bigger question than what to buy. It has to do with focus, priorities and, believe it or not, passion. When one is circling aimlessly -- in whatever form this might take -- it is time to look for what will break that pattern.

For me, this always comes back to defining or sharpening my goals. My friend who breezes around looking elegant is also organized and focused in the rest of her life.

If I need walking shoes then on go the blinders. No fair looking at stilettos. Stilettos are out, period, in the same way that I am no longer 25. No point in confusing the issue. Also, if I am out looking for walking shoes I am, I hope, looking forward to doing some good walking, as well.

"Get a life," keeps running through my head. There are so many things that masquerade as substitutes for life and sap our energy.

Singer Lucinda Williams, in, "Passionate Kisses," sings: "Is it too much to ask? I want a comfortable bed that won't hurt my back, food to fill me up, warm clothes and all that stuff?" Then she asks: "Shouldn't I have this and ... passionate kisses from you?" The rest of the song shifts back and forth between endless lists of odd little desires and her passionate kisses.

Lucinda's question intrigues me. It echoes the shopping-versus-life conflict. Lucinda is circling. She knows she wants those "passionate kisses," but she keeps getting sidetracked by "stuff," no amount of which will ever equal the real thing.

Someone once said the only real sin is an unlived life. Really living is hard to define. Like the Supreme Court Justice once said, "I know it when I see it." It is never, "too much to ask" for the real thing.

As with Lucinda's passionate kisses, it will feel singularly passionate, and not like an endless "to do" list. That, I've decided, is what I want for this life. Those are the shoes I want to walk in.