My grandmother Corley sent “Reader’s Digest Condensed Books” to my household by way of a gift subscription every Christmas. As a voracious reader, I gobbled the truncated versions of literature — classics, popular fiction, light novels alike. I did not care what I read. I would read cereal boxes if nothing else presented itself. I read billboards backwards for amusement.
During my early high school years, I read the condensed version of a novel called “The Walking Stick”. Its main character had a limp from some childhood illness, probably polio. She hobbled down grimy city streets from her dreary Manhattan walk-up to her job as a museum assistant, clutching her cane every step of the way. She apparently had no friends, which the reader could infer (as I inferred) directly stemmed from her crippled state. I could relate: I had been taunted by other children for years. The girls in my high school class openly ridiculed my spastic gait. I knew her pain.
Into her life came a handsome man who courted her, curried favor with her, and convinced her that she did not need the walking stick which separated her from other women. Slowly he won her heart and as her affection for him grew, her use of the cane diminished until it stood idle in a corner. Love seemingly triumphed.
But the falseness revealed itself when the museum suffered a midnight robbery with apparent inside implications, secrets which the young woman knew her lover had cajoled from her. His treachery became evident when he never returned after the heist. As the degree of her foolishness dawned on her, the story closes with the woman rummaging in the corner of a closet to retrieve her walking stick.
I have disdained canes for most of my life. My disability already raises a barrier between me and most people, and in ways that grieve me. Even if it didn’t, I find using a cane exceedingly difficult because I already have two legs that don’t properly communicate with my brain; adding a third confuses me. A cane also impedes my working day, making it impossible to carry computer bag and pocketbook while opening doors and moving about courtrooms. Insidious beasts, these assistive devices; I despise them.
But I own them — just in case.
Yesterday, because of the walking stick which my friend Katrina brought back for me from a family vacation in Colorado twenty years ago, I hiked from the edge of a parking lot, down a sandy trail, over small hills, and through the Rio Grande to stand on the edge of a magnificent sand dune in the Great Sand Dune National Park. It must be said that I fell in the river, soaking my jacket and leggings to go with my already wet old gardening shoes. My muscles screamed; and I needed Jenny Rosen’s arm to make the 1/2 mile journey back. But I made the trek. I made it: because of a walking stick.
Here in Colorado Springs, my friend and hostess Tami Cline putters around the kitchen while I sit at the breakfast bar drinking coffee from a cup and saucer. Jenny and I leave for home in a few hours, both of us reluctant to abandon the beauty of the mountains for the flatlands of the Midwest. We each have obligations tomorrow, so home we will go. When I pack, I will take care to tuck my walking stick back in the trunk of the Prius where it lives. It served me well; and I will respond by taking care of it, even though I might still grasp its handle with reluctance.
After my fall in the river, Jenny hurried downstream to rescue my walking stick from the swift current while a couple from Oklahoma picked my sorry butt from the water. All the while, I laughed and laughed and laughed. Sometimes joy cannot be contained.
It’s the thirtieth day of the twenty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.