I am sitting here with a broken leg and a pair of crutches thinking about the irony of my situation. I have crutches and at the same time I have none. Without the use of my leg I cannot lose myself in the familiar tasks and distractions that shore me up daily. I cannot depend on exercise to release happy hormones into my bloodstream. I cannot bond with my dog on jolly romps through the ‘hood. I cannot engage in any aspect of my life as an ambulatory person in a two-story house that is strolling distance from stores and cafes. I cannot amuse nor distract myself. There is nothing on which I can lean.
Well, almost. Being temporarily immobilized makes you think hard about what your basic necessities are. In front of me, on the coffee table I am using as a leg prop, are the pillars of my survival kit: A computer, a cell phone, four bottles of pills (two daily, one as needed, another for pain), a large strong cup of coffee.
I look at these things and see exactly where I am in my spiritual evolution. I recognize that it is, alas, mediocre mainstream middle age circa 2011. I should, I chide myself, have a few bowls of spartan, perhaps vegan, treats, a volume of prayers, a bottle of really good water, a pile of important work due immediately.
The prayer book is a real oversight. Were I to have a collection of profound pithy words on which to meditate, I could use this painful experience as a path to spiritual growth. I could stay in the present, perhaps even reduce the vicodin capsules that are essential every few hours if I am to avoid screaming pain.
My mind turns to measuring where I am in my life with other people: family, friends, lovers. There are no crutches there. Loving relatives hundreds of miles away; a promising date that morphed into a misunderstanding; a beastly collection of old boyfriends that look like so much wasted energy; good friends whom I feel too shy to rely on because they are so insanely busy with husbands, kids, careers; a sweet shaggy yellow dog who naturally does not wish to be mistaken for an ottoman.
Does all this make me gloomy? Well, maybe at first. Then, after a while, I begin to find my situation enlightening, even thrilling. To be crippled with so many crutches stripped away is of course a grand opportunity to become more self reliant, more in synch with one’s Higher Power.
Earlier this week, before I fell on a muddy stretch of snow, I felt very much in touch with the part of me that so desperately wants to rely physically and emotionally on another. I was oh so in tune with my girlish sensitivity as I strolled beside my new gentleman acquaintance, relieved that I could shake off, if only for a few hours and in fantasy, the androgynous persona of the single woman fending for herself. Afterwards, walking home alone, I blasted Whitney Houston’s, “I want to RUN to you” on my MP3. I was shamelessly self indulgent. I enjoyed being a girl.
The princess persona continued after my fall. I was delighted to show off my pedicure and lovely leg wax to the doctor examining my ankle. I had never felt so full of feminine wiles at the emergency room. I fancied the way I looked in my short skirt and boots, hair fetchingly mussed by the tumble, tears falling gently. What a picture of sweet brave femininity! It was divine being wheeled around, crying just a little, wincing in a ladylike fashion until they got the hint and gave me the meds.
Now, alone in my house with my metal crutches, essential belongings scattered on my coffee table, dog sleeping warily at a distance, I have a new wish. I would like to be as strong and self-sufficient as my new heroine and fantasy BFF: the delicately fierce intriguingly androgynous Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Having recently watched all three movies in the Dragon series, I recall with awe the scenes in which this pierced and persecuted, gunshot-wounded orphan (played with smoky vulnerability by gamine Noomi Rapace) works out in her jail cell until she is strong enough to fight her opponents one last time and win.
Self reliance, I realize, is the beautiful lesson here. Not running to anyone, at least not for now. Sit ups and weight training. Twelve step prayers. Respecting the dog. Healing.
Then, when it’s time to lose the crutches, standing up bravely, joyfully.