“If only we’d stop trying to be happy,
we could have a pretty good time.”
Last Thursday, it was warmish and sunny and the beach beckoned. So, I pulled on my running shoes and headphones, turned Pandora to “country fitness,” and began a slow jog toward the beach.
It’s been months since I have visited my stone—and I’ve been living far too much in my head. These are treacherous times, and I’m burdened with sadness and rage and responsibility. My last few blog posts have been so deadly serious they have left me emotionally and physically depleted. My Twitter and Facebook feeds are full of updates on violence and abuse, as are the newspapers and TVs. Some of my patients are struggling, it is tax season, and Roger Ebert died.
Setting out for my “run” on Thursday, I was exhausted from being up late with a patient crisis the night before, and I was worried about my son, Jeff, who had hernia repair surgery scheduled for Friday. At first I barely shuffled along, my body threatening to turn back at every step. But the sun felt warm on my skin and I was enjoying the tunes.
After ten minutes of warm up, I started a sluggish jog. That lasted half a block, but when a peppier song came on I moved a little faster. I started thinking about buying new running shoes and getting out every morning to run—like I did years ago. I was listening to the words of a song playing about loving “this crazy, tragic, sometimes almost magic, awful, beautiful life.” And I started thinking about the awful.
The glistening shores of Lake Michigan were in sight, but I was in my head when my toe caught on an edge of uneven sidewalk and I pitched forward, landing on my hands and knees. The pain was searing. When I saw the flap of skin dangling off the palm of my left hand, I clenched both hands into fists and hugged myself —rocking with pain as I sat cross-legged on the sidewalk.
A young man named Jacob, who was riding his bike, stopped and crouched beside me. “Are you okay?”
“My hands and knees.”
“Are your hands bleeding?”
“I think so.”
“Can I see them?”
It hurt to open my fists and I was terrified of what I would see, but I nodded and showed him my hands.
“Not, too bad,” he said, with a grimacing smile. “Can you stand up?”
“I don’t know.”
He helped me to my feet, and to my relief nothing was broken. A woman had also stopped and gotten out of her car, asking if I needed a ride to the hospital. I declined, thanked them both, and hobbled on toward the beach. I wanted to wash my hands in the water.
It’s hard to regain your dignity when you’ve obviously fallen and you’re limping and bleeding. And by that time I was crying in that pitiful, sniffling way you do when a physical blow causes all your emotional pain to come flowing out.
I walked past a woman playing with her child, construction workers, and women walking in pairs. At the water’s edge I gasped when the icy water washed over my ragged hands then soaked my running shoes. Shit!
But as I stepped back, I spotted a perfectly heart-shaped black stone in the sand. As I picked it up and examined it, I knew I’d fallen because I was in my head instead of being present in the sunny morning. I was concentrating on the awful instead of the beautiful. It was a profound wake-up fall. I needed to pray but every step hurt, and I knew I could never make it to my stone.
So, I stood, stared out at the lake and asked for help and strength and peace. I expressed gratitude for the beautiful day and for Jacob and the woman who had stopped to help me. Then I slowly made my way home.
I had more sessions that afternoon, then scheduled an impromptu (careful!) manicure and pedicure. I made a simple tasty dinner and went to bed early.
On Friday I was surprisingly calm as Brie and I waited for Jeff’s surgery to be completed. During his surgery, a patient alerted me to a double rainbow around the sun—a sure sign that all was well—which it was. That night I had dinner with a friend and attended a reading by my personal hero, Anne Lamott. And I mustered up the courage to actually talk to her!
These three days later I’m still surprisingly sore—and grateful that I didn’t break a wrist or a leg or land on my face. And while I can’t escape the burdens of this crazy, tragic, awful life—I’m ever dedicated to righting wrongs and even more committed to staying present enough to appreciate the beautiful.
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