Getting injured sucks. A serious enough injury can dominate every minute of your existence like a heavy load you’re forced to carry. And I’m not saying this only because I am injured at the moment. It’s more that my own injury has made me reflect on the injuries and infirmities that I’ve seen in others and the hardships that I and others have faced. It has forced me to hobble back to get a perspective. I’m lucky. I’m still on the young side (ahem), and my knee will heal if I can just stop being an idiot and rest long enough to let it happen.
But as I limp around cursing my own stupidity, it makes me think of my parents. My dad, for whom all of life was about strength and dominance, and the strokes and resulting disability he suffered. My mom, who is plagued with arthritis and has trouble walking around a museum. My sister, who was disabled from birth and lived her too-brief life in a wheelchair. My daughter, who has bravely faced years of medical problems.
Being injured with the prospect of healing is depressing enough. Being injured or disabled with no end in sight…that’s where things really get hard. I have a vivid and unforgettable memory of my dad’s face when his home aide told him she could not make him better, just more comfortable. In other words, no matter how hard you’re willing to work, you will always struggle to speak and be understood. You will always struggle to move around – just maybe not quite as bad as you’re struggling now. You will never be the same again. It was the moment he gave up. I saw it in his eyes and I knew we were in trouble. It was the moment he truly started to die.
After his first stroke, while he was still in the rehab hospital, he talked to me about what it was like for him. He talked about gathering up his toiletries to make the ten-foot walk from his bed to the bathroom, which pretty much felt like crossing a vast desert with a broken leg. He talked about feeling the satisfaction of doing that thing independently, only to have the triumph wash away with the realization that he had forgotten his toothpaste and would have to make the journey three more times to get the job accomplished and get back to bed. It was terrible for a man who was used to calling the shots, being in charge, getting the job done. A forgotten tube of toothpaste could defeat him.
Now as I’m tempted to whine about the run I can’t take or the heavy bag I can’t kick, I remind myself of my dad. As I contemplate a flight of stairs with a sigh, I remind myself of my mom who, despite living in consistent pain, still manages to travel and play sports. I remind myself of my sister who, despite being both physically and mentally challenged, was basically a contented person. I think of my daughter, who faces her medical challenges like a god damned champ – always coming out of her corner swinging.
Perspective. It’s ironically huge and important, and I haven’t even scratched the surface here in terms of what life is like for so much of the world in undeveloped or oppressive countries. We’re all tiny little cogs in the machine…or cells in the organism, or atoms in the galaxy…pick your image of choice, but it works. It’s too easy to lose that perspective. To get wrapped up in our day-to-dayness and forget how quickly everything can turn to shit. To forget how inconsequential so many of our “troubles” are.
By no means am I suggesting that we all meekly accept our lot in life and stop trying, stop striving for better. As soon as my frigging knee heals, I’ll be back in it, kicking ass and taking names. And if you’re unhappy with your life or want to accomplish a goal, you should jump in there and fight. But along with that philosophy, I’d love to be able to bottle perspective and sell it as a spray. Because so often, our failures come from being overwhelmed and from losing track of how small that bump in the road really is. I can’t say I have the solution to keeping perspective, but failing that, I’ll just write this blog – to remind myself and anyone who cares to read it that most problems, most setbacks don’t matter. Most troubles will be forgotten tomorrow, or next week or next month or next year. And while it’s normal to lose perspective much of the time, we’ll probably be okay as long as we keep reminding ourselves.