As an American teenager, I’ve succumbed to the consumer culture of feverishly buying something and disposing of it just as fast when I believe it’s broken and worthless. I was walking to my car with a friend a few weeks ago and after our feet collided, the stitching on one of my flip-flops snapped. They were only $30 and had been worn for a year so my immediate instinct was to throw the shoes away. Coming from a middle-class household with good stability, I’m privileged enough to have other pairs of shoes to wear throughout my high school year. I left the broken sandals on the stairs when I got home. Maybe it was the memories I had with them over the previous summer which stopped me from sacrificing them to the trash bin. But the next day, my grandfather came by and offered to stitch and reattach the straps.

I remember a story he told me about living in Pennsylvania as a young boy. My grandfather’s family was predominantly German-Italian and lived in tiny row houses in South Philly. They, like other families in the city, were dependent on their local tailor and shoemaker. If one of them were to rip the zipper on the pants worn for Sunday mass, they could simply walk across the street to a tailor who’d repair it and they were able to wear them again. In that lifestyle without many options and without much money, you didn’t give up on the things you had because of a small rip or tear. You learned to appreciate what you were given and customize it in times of struggle.

There is a useful message to be taught from this- one we should use to approach our behavior on the things (and people) we view as unfixable… We can make an effort to practice patience, leniency, and optimism- even if this means you are taking a risk by funneling hope into something that isn’t secure. For me, this is a struggle I’ve never noticed. I am often too quick or too confident in marking things and people as incompetent for their faults; by me and others not showing the compassion they may rightfully deserve, we abandon their potential to improve and thus, everything that could be done for society is incomplete. Because of our indifference.

My grandfather fixed my shoes and left them in my room, which I found upon arriving home from school last week. I saw the new adjustments yet they seemed like new. I may not trust them enough to wear to school again but my sandals, like people, have limits but they also proper value for certain circumstances. By being productive and accepting of the “unacceptable”, you may refrain from making an irreversible decision that’s manageable. This could benefit our relations with one another and also minimize our materialistic behaviors which are detrimental to us and the environment.

Thus, I believe in the power of customizing the world around me with what I’ve been given. I believe in the capability of broken shoes and flat tires and old tablecloths; and in the inner-integrity of drug addicts and the homeless. And I believe in forgiving people without reason; for what kind of world is one that cannot be proactive?