Friday, March 21, 2014

Lucky (Despite Being Unlucky)

Yesterday I went to my first followup appointment with the orthopedist since I fell just over two weeks ago and broke my foot.

It's been a daunting and discouraging two weeks. I couldn't master -- well, actually, gave up on even attempting -- crutches; the knee-scooter I rented proved unwieldy and difficult (for me) to maneuver (but, oh, you should see Christopher zoom around my tiny house on it, and my ski-injured students zip around campus on them wonderfully). I had to go up and down stairs on my bottom. I had to ask my students to help me get in and out of doorways in my wheelchair. I had to ask my already stressed family to bring me my morning hot chocolate.

When I flew to the Children's Lit Festival in Warrensburg, Missouri, last week, I had the shock of discovering that although I was wheeled right to the plane in an airport wheelchair, the actual plane was one of those tiny ones out on the tarmac, with steps you had to climb up into it - and no way for a disabled person to climb them. So I gave up any pretense at dignity, ascended the (cold, metal, dirty) stairs on my now-practiced bottom, and hopped down the narrow aisle to my seat.

But then, at yesterday's appointment, the doctor examined my x-rays and probed my foot. Did it hurt? she asked. No, I answered honestly. In fact, that's been the hardest part about accepting my disability: forcing myself not to walk on a foot that didn't really hurt at all. The only pain, one of my friends at church said, was the "pain in the ass" of the massive disruption to my daily routine.

"Walk on it!" the doctor said, with a merry shrug.

I felt as the paralytic did when Jesus told him, "Get up, take your mat, and go home!"

Well, not quite. But almost.

The bliss of being able to walk from bed to bathroom! To walk from couch to desk! To go downstairs on feet, not bottom, and make myself my own hot chocolate at will!

"You're so lucky!" a friend told me when I called her at once with my good news. And she's right.

Then again, a truly lucky person wouldn't go out to get the mail, trip on nothing, and fracture her foot.

Lucky? Unlucky? Or both?

One of my favorite books is Alix Kates Shulman's memoir To Love What Is. (Thank you, Alison, for that book recommendation!) Her beloved husband falls nine feet from their sleeping loft and is permanently brain damaged as a result. Their marriage will never be the same. How could it be? And yet she dedicates the memoir to him, "To my darling."  Despite her friends' horror at her changed life, her husband himself keeps repeating the mantra, "Aren't we lucky?" Shulman writes, "Our shorthand for this tenacious optimism, which some consider temperament, others self-delusion or denial, and still others a gift, is the language of luck -- which we continually manufacture by our stubborn resistance to viewing our lives as other than blessed."

Sometimes it's harder than others to see our lives as blessed. Mine feels much more blessed now that I've been given permission to walk again than it did two days ago when I was in a rage of despair against the limitations imposed on me by my temporary disability. It's a heck of a lot easier to feel lucky today than it was on the day I got my diagnosis. I have loved ones dealing with things in their lives right now so tough that few could call them lucky outright.

In any case, I'm feeling lucky right this minute. I just walked downstairs and fed Snickers her breakfast. All by myself! That was me, walking right down the stairs like nobody's business.

Lucky, indeed.


  1. I just finished reading Refining Realness & talking with my kid about how we are all so lucky (privileged) in so many ways & so unlucky (unprivileged) in other ways all the time. You can always look at someone better off than you having an easier time & someone worse off than you having a harder time.

  2. So true, Lorena! When I think of my life as an author, I can either look at the my writer friends who have best-seller-level sales and big national awards, or at my writer friends who are struggling to get published at all. Or I could just not compare myself with anyone else at all!