I have a co-worker who rushes to help me if she hears me sigh from down the hallway. We’re nearly the same age; she’s a few years older but substantially more capable. I’m getting quite spoiled.
Yesterday, I fell in the office. My co-worker dashed to my side. I couldn’t breathe; I had smacked the floor with such force that my lungs had compressed. My litany of self-talk kicked into high gear as I tried to calm my mind and take control of my functions. Karen’s steady voice flooded through my mind. just tell me what I can do, she intoned, her hand lightly resting on my shoulder.
Eventually, I got to my feet with assistance from the lawyer in whose office I work. The activity subsided back to normal. Neither woman had yet seen one of my falls. They handled it with more grace than many people. I’m used to being scolded for being slow. I worry about inconveniencing people walking down the street. I get chided for delaying progress. But these two ladies took the incident in stride, by all appearances. They helped; then they didn’t make a fuss. They gave me what I needed without complaint, without focus on themselves or undue emphasis on the interruption.
I saw a clip on YouTube about a day of “silly walking” in some Eastern European nation. A sort of parade took place where people adopted exaggerated gaits, limping, twisting, twirling, staggering. As I lay in bed, unable to sleep because of pain made worse by my tumble, incredulity rose in my belly, acrid and stinging. I can’t imagine finding any sort of joy in standing out as one traverses the streets and sidewalks. I’ve spent my life averting my eyes from the looks of staring strangers — from fingers pointed by children; the murmurs of their fearful mothers; the taunts of bullies and unbridled inquisition disguised as good intention. I crave normalcy. I just want to disappear in the rippling wave of the able-bodied.
But: My grandmother always told me to put my best foot forward.So I study my lily-white spastic feet each morning, straining to decide which one should take the lead. I struggle into my socks and shoes, and hoist myself to an upright position. Then I take the first step into the new day, hoping against hope that I can get through the day without breaking something or calling too much attention to myself.
It’s the third day of the sixty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.