Seeking happiness in objects of enjoyment

My stepdaughter asked me to perform the marriage ceremony at her recent wedding, and in preparation, I decided to buy a white linen suit. I ordered it online and paid $169; with a few alterations, it fit and looked great. I also decided that I wanted white footwear, and as the wedding day approached, I popped into Payless Shoe store.

I ended up buying a pair of white slip-on sneakers for $16. Actually, they were women’s sneakers, what my wife called “espadrilles.” Whatever … they looked just like men’s slip-on sneakers to me, and I only bought them for that day. It turns out cheap women’s sneakers have no arches, so I bought a pair of arch-support insoles for $15.95.

Between the suit, white socks and the sneakers, I looked heavenly enough, though my brother-in-law said I looked like Don Johnson from “Miami Vice.” The wedding was lovely, the ceremony went well, and my one-day Sonoma County Deputy Marriage Commissioner permit let me do what I was asked to do; I pronounced the happy couple “husband and wife.”

After the ceremony, I changed my clothes; white linen stains easily and the reception was still ahead of us. I put the suit, socks and sneakers in my car, safe and sound. Later on, a family member borrowed my car, and when I retrieved the suit and sneakers a day or two later, I discovered that someone had stepped all over the perfectly white sneakers. No longer white, they were covered with scuffs and dirt. I felt my gorge rise as I removed them from the car; something about their lost perfection twisted my gut.

“Hey, look,” I called out to my wife as I came inside, “Somebody (on your side of the family, I thought) stepped all over my new white sneakers.” Despite my awareness of their cheapness, and the fact that I would most probably never wear them again, I felt violated. Betrayed. Angry. “They can be washed,” she said casually, and I realized that I was all alone in my indignation. My gentler, better self advised me to let it go, take a breath, move on. I sighed and put them on the floor of the closet.

A few days later, I noticed the sneakers sitting on top of the clothes dryer. My wife had thoughtfully put them in the wash. Unfortunately, the leather insoles had been washed with them and some color from the leather had leached into the white tops. Again, my gorge began to rise. I felt myself getting angry with my wife. What was it about these damn sneakers that had such a grip on me? When I bought them, they meant little to me, a cheap costume accessory, and yet now for the second time I found myself suddenly upset about them.

My ego is capable, in fact inclined, to appropriate anything and everything, including cheap white sneakers. Seeking its own perfection, it “possesses” objects, and assigns blame when things go “wrong,” which means change beyond its control. Thus it is the inevitable imperfections of ordinary life that stimulate irritation. As usual, my suffering was simply the result of ego seeking happiness in its chosen object of enjoyment, a $16 pair of women’s white sneakers.

Ah, well. Enlightenment is cheap.