Sunday, February 27, 2011


I'll always remember 2011 as the year my body and I stopped getting along. I've already written about the herniated disc in my neck, which has bulldozed me with pain and prevented any real exercise, including the physical therapy that might actually help resolve my symptoms. I'm getting soft around the middle and thick in the thighs.

Then there was last week's spill on my bike -- trying to ride in the ice after running late on election day. The plummy bruises on my knees are nothing. It's the extra twinges in my neck and left arm that worry me. Was this the over-reaching that will lead me to the surgeon's table?

Strangely enough, my mind and I seem to be friendlier than ever, as if we've reunited after a long hiatus only to realize we're still in love. Mind, you had me at 'hello.' You make me want to be a better person. And damnit, you complete me.

It's a funny thing that happens when you have to work around pain. It's a little like the series of steps that get people past grief or an alcohol habit.

At first, there's denial: I'm sure this is just a pulled muscle. It'll be gone in another day or two.

Then the bargaining: Let me get through the day. Just today. Tomorrow I'll stay home from work if I have to. I'll call the doctor. I'll even consider the surgery, if I can just make this deadline and find a comfortable chair for that two-hour meeting.

(And somehow I do make that deadline, and I do find that comfortable chair, and I'm stronger for having done so).

Finally there's the acceptance: This is my life now. The show must go on.

But above all, and this is where a pain condition starts to do its own thing, I have a very focused sense of empathy, not to mention the fact that tiny human scenes seem to play themselves around me on endless reels.

Take last Tuesday's bike crash.

There I was, in the middle of the street, unable to move my bike or even pick myself up to get to the sidewalk. A pick-up pulled up behind me. No one got out of the truck, and I could see traffic lining up behind him.

Then, a van, driving past the intersection and pulling over to the side of the road. A woman, more specifically a Muslim woman in full robes, got out of the van, rushed to my side, physically moved my bicycle out of the street, then held my arm as she escorted me to the sidewalk, dragging her long skirt through the slush.

The woman asked if I needed a ride. She said she'd put my bicycle in her van and drive me wherever I needed to go. I wasn't even a block from home, so I thanked her and headed back to the house.

I've been haunted by her kindness ever since. She didn't have to stop. She was a petite woman, but she lifted my bike like it was nothing at all. She didn't have to trust me enough to invite me into her car. Her hemline got dirty because of me. She didn't know where I worked -- it could have been miles away -- but still she offered to take me there. And it's not lost on me, and somehow not irrelevant, that this woman is a Muslim and I am not. She overcame our differences to offer help to a person in need. It's something that doesn't come easily these days in America, and I'm going to be honest: It's something that doesn't always come easily to me.

I've replayed that episode over and over, and the immensity of her gesture never gets old.

So in some ways, this experience of pain has amplified my experience of the world, both good and bad. I'm not a religious person, but I take that as a blessing. And I'm not a pedantic person, but I see it as a lesson.


tracy said...

So sorry about your wreck! What a lovely gesture it is to get help from strangers, however seldom we need it, however seldom it's offered.

leslie said...

I'd love to give that woman a hug.

leslie said...

And you too. I shouldn't assume that goes without saying. Healing thoughts are with you...

Rosemary said...

I'm humbled by that story. While I'd like to believe that I'm the kind of person who'd stop and do a good deed like that, in my heart of hearts, I suspect I'm probably not. I'm glad there are still a few folks out there who are, though!