It’s a funny thing, gratitude. When I was first starting to walk after my surgery, I was pretty grateful. I could walk around the house in my boot, I could ride my exercise bike a little bit, I could walk to the bathroom at work. A month ago when my foot had its major setback, I was once again reduced to being in a wheelchair all day. In order to get down the steps to the front walkway I had to crawl. The only way I could get any exercise at all was to do sit ups. I did something like 60 sit-ups a day. At the time, I thought, ‘I was grateful before, but I didn’t really recognize how much higher my quality of life was when I could do just a few things. I’m really going to be grateful when I can do them again.’
And here I am! I walked down the steps today. I rode the exercise bike for half an hour. And just for the record, I’m hella grateful.
Sometimes I pause in the middle of something I am doing and shake my head in wonder at how funny it all is. For example: I really like going to the local hot tub, but there are five or six rough wooden steps to get up to the tub. There I am crawling up through the puddles of water in my kneepads, using my forearms to lever myself up; my butt in the air, my nose inches from the wood. My determination is exceptional, but my dignity has fled.
My cat bites me when I cry. It turns out it’s a really fantastic trait. She’s really aggressive about it – there I am wallowing on the floor in a sea of self-pity, wailing away, and Spook will come tearing across the room yowling, in for the bite. She’s so determined about it, she really won’t stop until I stop crying. There she is, gnawing on me, and I cannot help but laugh. Instead of wallowing, I am on the floor laughing and laughing. She gives what I imagine to be a satisfied huff and curls up to be petted.
I always thought that if I went to prison I would use it as an opportunity to attain enlightenment. It was an idle fantasy, both an excuse for not meditating (while not in prison), and an enduring faith that I would always make the best of any given situation. Well, if this isn’t an opportunity to test that faith, nothing is. I am in a prison. A prison of a body that will not function, that hurts, and that confines me to a wheelchair.
And I have been meditating. Not as much as I had thought I would, but it has brought me a modicum of comfort as well as some insights. I am finally coming to understand why Buddhist teachers emphasize being in the present moment. Thich Nhat Hanh said that if you are in the present moment you are free, and I am beginning to see why. In each present moment I am often doing fine, even enjoying myself. I am enjoying doing situps. I am enjoying looking at the purple flowers of the tree. I am enjoying chatting on the phone to my friend. I am enjoying meeting my student. If you add all of those moments together, it is an enjoyable life. Even if my foot hurts and my wrists don’t work. It is only when my consciousness strays to the future that I suffer. That I worry about my work; I worry about how my husband will hold up doing all of the cooking; I worry that I will never kayak again. Right now I am free. Writing this blog.
I have been indulging my geeky side by tracking all of my tendonitis symptoms. This is the one for my wrists. Each day I color code the level of pain, then circle the pain region on my wrist with the same color. Like I said, it’s very Geeky. The tracking, the graphs, and the color coding make me happy. The fact that the pain just seems to keep going up and down does not.
This has been a week of a little too much despair for my taste, but what I want to write about is absurdity. Yesterday I had an eight hour day at work. I had to back to back meetings with students, then had to teach from 4 PM to 8 PM. By the third student, my surgery foot was throbbing. It was blowing up like a balloon, hot and prickling. While meeting with the student, I had to take my boot off and put my foot up on the desk. She appropriately marveled at my sausage toes. It got bad enough that I had to lie down on my office floor and send my student for an ice pack. There I was, lying on the floor, my foot propped on my wheelchair on a bag of ice, with sausage toes, and my chair walked in. She took one look at me, and we both laughed. She went on a mission for more ice, and my student returned to wheelchair me down to class, where I taught with my foot on an ice bag for four hours. There was a circular path around the room and they wheeled my wheelchair round and round to check their work. I am fortunate for such open-minded students, and caring colleagues.