As you know if you’ve been following thepauser, I’ve been on the dog’s path since the middle of October, trying to get myself to a healthy weight and level of fitness. I’ve been losing weight and getting much stronger. My endurance is much better, but this journey has had its hiccups as well.
Two Fridays ago, I woke up feeling fantastic. Really. I felt like those ladies in the commercial where everyone wears yellow and sings, “It’s a great big beautiful day to be alive.”
I drove to the park to take my walk, participating heavily in congratulatory self-talk. Look how far you’ve come. You can go so much faster and so much farther now. You are one bad babe! It was one of those days when the sun combined with the cool temperature to create fizzy atmosphere, the kind that cleanses you and leaves you feeling all Mary Poppins-ish. I felt demonstrably happy. I felt bulletproof.
I was churning along as fast as I could go, just starting to get my rhythm, when a text came
by the reflection you shall know the shore
through. I considered stopping to answer it, but I had some hubris in me that morning. I know the trail. I’ll send the text and keep on walking. I’m one bad mamajama.
When my foot met the hole, I felt the same sort of shock and disbelief the guys who built the Titanic must have felt when they learned their unsinkable boat lay on the ocean floor in a bunch of matchstick sized pieces.
It hurt. My ankle went out from under me and twisted at a sick angle, and the weight of my entire body landed on the opposite knee. Sitting there, stunned and humiliated, I wondered if I’d be able to get up on my own. I thought about how embarrassing it would be to have to call an ambulance. I felt every one of my fifty six years.
Then, I remembered the man. He was on the path somewhere nearby. I’d just passed him a few minutes ago going the opposite direction. He’ll help me, I thought. He’ll help me get up and then I can limp to my car and die at home, in private. Saved by the stranger.
As I looked up the trail to see where he was, I saw him exiting the restroom. When he saw I was still sitting down, he turned around and went the other way. I managed to crawl to a nearby bench and pull myself into a standing position, where I then hobbled my way to my car.
I’m not mad at the guy who went the other way. We’ve all witnessed the calamities of strangers and gone careening in the opposite direction. He had his reasons, so he avoided helping me. But here’s one thing I do know.
I am a stopper. If he would have gone down on the trail that day, I would have gotten there as fast as I could. I would have asked if he was okay, and I would have stayed until I was sure he was okay, even if he was embarrassed, even if he didn’t want me there, even if he said, “Go away,” in a stern, unfriendly voice. I would have done it, because underneath our yellow clothing and bluster, people are as fragile as those paper streamers we hang on the edges of tables at a birthday party. We tear. We fade. We need one another. In exigent circumstances, territories don’t count.
People must sense I’m a stopper. Folks I have never met before tell me the most remarkable things about themselves. The other day I was in line at the grocery store when the woman behind me said, “He has Alzheimer’s. Isn’t that sad?” She pointed to a picture of an actor on the Star magazine.
I agreed, because Alzheimer’s is, indeed, sad. She continued. “My brother’s wife has Alzheimer’s, and she can’t even take care of her own restroom needs, can you imagine?”
I replied. No, I couldn’t imagine. She went on to describe her sister-in-law’s restroom problems, and how her brother promised he would always take care of his wife, and how putting her in a nursing home would feel like a divorce.
“I told my husband that if he gets bad like that, I’m not keeping him home like my brother has,” she said. “I couldn’t do it by myself. He’s already showing some signs, you know.” When she said “some signs,” she whispered, as if the words themselves held malevolent magic and could speak themselves into existence.
“Some signs,” was the part she needed someone to hear. Maybe she woke up that morning with the fear in her mind. Her husband, the man she had loved and taken care of for years, may not recognize her in days to come. Standing in line at the grocery store, she felt herself fading and she stepped into my territory uninvited. I really don’t remember what I said to end the conversation. It was probably something like, “I’m sorry this is happening to you.”
Stopping, in this case, cost me next to nothing. I finished my transaction and limped on home. But whatever it costs to stop, for me, not stopping costs more.
Sometimes, compelled by forces we cannot understand, we lay ourselves bare before strangers. And when I need to unburden myself, when the sadness, or the pain, or the joy is about to make my brain explode, someone usually appears. Sometimes, I’m the one to appear. Reap. Sow.
It’s been two weeks since the fall now, and every morning I wake up expecting all of the pain to be gone. Every morning, I’m surprised when I put my foot on the ground and feel the twinge. I’m surprised when I notice the yellow and purple bruising around my knee. Surprised, but also grateful for the lessons. Don’t walk and text at the same time. When someone needs you, just stay.