One new habit that we have all been forced to adopt in the past two weeks is the strict “no shoes inside” policy. Whether coming home after wandering the Baščaršijan labyrinth or strolling along the Miljacka river, either returning from internships or stumbling home from a late night out, or quickly hustling from the gym to avoid stares of disdain for sweaty pits and sneakers, we all exit and enter our beautiful castle at least once a day. Therefore, this ‘removing of the shoes’ activity is one event we all share and one ritual that has definitely grown on me. As Americans, our private-public lives can become so intertwined and the lines between work and home are often so blurred that we do not realize we are, in fact, constantly working. I am so used to traipsing into my apartment with my shoes on and my groceries in hand, ready to send an email and throw in some laundry while cooking dinner and watching Netflix. Shoes still on. I never give a second thought to the significance of opening that door and entering a completely different sphere of life.
This tiny act of removing one’s outer shoes before entering the home is so subtle but packs so much meaning. Those extra ten seconds may seem inconsequential but to me, it signifies that once that threshold is crossed, you are in a different environment- one of family, friends, belonging; a place to settle and relax while the stress of the day, the problems at work, and even the public persona you show to the world are left tucked away in the shoe closet where they stay until morning. I think a lot more people, especially Americans, could benefit from a little more separation and a more visible dividing line in order to cherish the sanctity of home life, family, and safety. When I think back to Kenan’s story in the Cellist, I remember his treacherous journey to fetch jugs of water for his wife and children. After putting on his shoes and closing the door that separated him from the comfort of his family, he would slump to the ground and weep for a while until beginning his walk out in the open. In this perspective, the significance of crossing that threshold was a hundredfold and helped me to appreciate the value of having a safe and loving place to go when the outside world is exactly the opposite.