Yesterday, I slipped off the 45-degree slope of a cement bridge piling on the Russian River and landed funny on the beach, triggering an old soccer injury to my right MCL.
Today, hobbling 3 blocks around downtown Berkeley in between brunch and the movie theater, I re-lived the feelings of intense conspicuousness and vulnerability that come with being suddenly unable to walk.
I stepped aside to let people pass. I kept my eyes on the floor as the stranger kind enough to hold the door was forced to wait thirty seconds longer than he'd been expecting. I watched the flashing open palm at the crosswalk go solid when I was only halfway across, forcing us to wait on the narrow median for the little white walking man to re-appear, and give his blessing.
One day three years ago, when I was fresh out of the hospital and re-learning how to walk, my mother and sister proclaimed that we should all enjoy the beautiful summertime weather by going to lunch by the water. We took the convertible and I sat in the front seat with the top down, grateful for the noise and the sun and the wind and the fleeting sense of freedom.
After we'd parked in the handicapped spot closest to the entrance, my sister lifted me out of the low-lying seat like I was made of whipped egg whites, and I stood a bit wobbly next to the car, waiting patiently (as I did in those days) for her to turn back around and take my free arm.
Suddenly and in slow motion, I felt myself start to lean backward. "Oh," I said, and then plopped right down on my butt in the parking lot with a solid, muscular thud.
After we'd all had a chuckle and my sister had plucked me back up, I remember confronting the 15-degree incline of the ramp to the door -- and feeling inwardly mortified not that I had just involuntarily fallen over while standing up, but that this non-obstacle of a ramp should require such Herculean effort to overcome, whereas before I'd never even noticed such a thing.
I guess I thought, until yesterday, that re-learning how to walk taught me, once and for all, how to be vulnerable and how to accept help when I need it. And yet, when I slipped yesterday and Bruce came to my aid, I confess I did something that fits a terrible pattern I seem to act out whenever I am truly and unexpectedly hurt -- which is that, once the pain dimmed enough for me to come to my senses, I asked him to please leave me alone.
Then, when he did, I felt shocked and betrayed and proceeded to pick a fight, in which I felt totally and 100% justified for at least the first five minutes.
Oh, injury! There is nothing quite like it to force you to slow down and ask yourself what it is, exactly, that you have been resistant to learning. It would seem I still have some things to learn, at the very least, about the surrender of ego -- such as the kind that's necessary before you can accept help, graciously, when it is offered.
I know this time it is just a strain; that I will be well enough by next weekend to walk a few miles in the redwoods on my Trail Mavens trip to Mendocino. If the universe were a cruel place, I would have been scheduled for Yosemite or Big Sur, wherein hiking is a primary activity.
But instead, I get to rely on my upper body and core to help me crest waves and explore sea caves in my kayak, lounge and picnic with awesome women by the beach, and taste wine at the vineyards nearby. Because the world is not a cruel place; just a kind one with an occasionally cruel sense of humor, and an uncanny knack for putting you in just enough pain to get you to wake up, and pay attention.