"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Walker


The dairy I spent the latter half of my childhood on was seven miles from town. That seven miles was often the reason I couldn't go to parties or go to the beach and hang with friends in the summer, at least until we were old enough to drive. I begged to be allowed to walk into town, was told it was too far, unsafe, "No!" But one summer day when I was in my early teens Mom said yes and I walked those seven miles along the highway with a friend.

There's a lot I don't remember about that day, but what does stand out for me still is the sense of total freedom and the intimacy with everything I walked by. Daisies seemed more exotic, as did the Canadian thistles and tansy that also dotted our fields at home. Dogs rushing to the edge of properties barking fiercely made us laugh with relief once we made our way past. The wind of cars rushing by, headed in the opposite direction to possibly the Canadian border, rocked us and whipped our hair and made me feel so alive.

That walk gave me access to the adventurer in my soul I'd only found previously in the depths of my imagination. I remember the arrival in town was a little disappointing. Even though my legs were rubbery, my feet were blistered (cheap flipfops not good hiking shoes), and my nose would peel in the days to come, I would have walked all the way to Spokane 80 miles farther with just the littlest bit of encouragement.

In the nearly half century since then walking has been my meditation, my exercise, my solitude, my everything.

The summer I was pregnant with Kathleen and as alone as I'd ever been, I walked the streets of Spokane every day for hours, finding comfort in my body's movement and the sense of relief from the oppressive heat of my attic room and the shame that threatened to consume me.

In the years between Kathleen and the cult I roamed the streets of Seattle, Great Falls and then Spokane again. When I moved to Portland, I rode a bike for a while, but found that two wheels and the balance and attention required to stay alive on them were nothing like traveling on the power of my own two legs. So I got rid of the bike and walked Portland as well. On those walks I imagined myself living in the beautiful old homes I passed. I prayed endlessly to be changed and to be loved. I inhaled the fragrances of flowers, and often took them with me as company for the rest of the walk.

I almost always walked alone, although much much later I came to understand I was accompanied on every single walk of my life by the Creator of the mysteries I absorbed with each step.

Even during the cult years I found bits of time here and there to escape into long wandering walks. Shortly after my marriage a golden retriever named Jesse came into our lives, and my walks took on a purpose. I found wild trails nearby our suburban home on which I would let him off-leash and I would watch the seasons change and be delighted with small scurrying thing and larger flying ones.

When that life and my marriage disintegrated, I began running. Mile after mile after mile around a high school track until my shins stung and my lungs ached. I ran everywhere, but found pleasure only in the accumulation of miles and the escape from myself. Running kept me safely separate from the world, my feelings, and the Companion of my walks whom I'd felt I betrayed when I left the cult.

Then I met Walt, and the walks began again. At first on the wild trails of our suburban neighborhood with a new golden retriever named Kelly. Then, when we moved to the country 20 years ago, on the miles of trails of nearby Lewisville Park with Kelly, then Riley (another golden) for the ten years of his life.

When we got Toby five years ago I found the park walks were too hard. In part it was his strength and stubbornness. But looking back, the decision to take the shorter paths closer to home had more to do with my own increasing pain than it did with Toby.

My right hip became a constant aching presence in my life. I ignored it as best I could for a long time. Then sought every alternative treatment possible, and did all I could to take care of it. Until one day I realized I was avoiding walking because it hurt too much. Where I used to park as far away from my destinations as possible so I could walk farther, I found myself avoiding places altogether if I couldn't park close by. Walking across my classroom seemed impossible and I made the kids come to me more and more. Shopping for groceries I got even more efficient than I'd ever been before, and if I forgot something on an aisle I'd already passed, it had to wait until the next trip.

What had once been a light and lively gait became a Lurch-like limp that inspired one of my students to say recently that I looked like a penguin.

The injection that provided enough relief for me to enjoy Belize this summer as though nothing was wrong wore off in three months. And so I find myself, at sixty, with a date to receive a new hip. In three weeks, I'll turn myself over to a surgeon who will remove a part of me that has served me so well for so long and is finally worn out. He'll replace it with a modern contraption of metal and ceramic that is meant to give me back my ability to make my way through the world on my own two feet, powered by my own two legs, freely and pain-free.

I'm as prepared as I can be for this new adventure. I feel deep gratitude that I live in a time and have the resources that make the replacement both possible and almost an ordinary event. I feel even more gratitude for this hip that finally wore out, and I'm sad to be saying goodbye to her. I will welcome her replacement and learn to love her as well.

The one thing I'm struggling most with right now is the fact that I'll have to use a walker for a couple of months after the surgery. I know it's not a rational thing, but I can hardly bear the mental picture of me shuffling along, pushing that metal contraption in front of me. I see old, decrepit, crippled. And even knowing that walker is going to be my ticket to independent walking, I'm having to breathe my way through the thought of it.

Walking saved me. I've found my true self in those miles, found freedom, found a God who loves me and understands me. The miles strengthened my body without my trying. And when I picture myself as an old woman, I see someone like Mary Oliver who strides out into the wilds of the world discovering the magic and wonder and beauty there until I draw my last breath.

I will make friends with the walker about to come into my life, not because she's someone I'd ever consider friend material, but because I need her to restore the most important part of my being to me. And I will soon be a walker again in every important sense of the word.

17 comments:

DJan said...

Oh, Deb, I am so glad to learn that you have a date for the surgery. I know what you mean about the walker: when I busted up my pelvis and spent two weeks in a rehab hospital, I had to use a walker to get around. I found myself actually liking it and was a little scared to graduate to crutches, which didn't seem nearly as secure. You will be a walker again, and I'm really happy to have become a part of your life. I will be thinking of you and hoping to hear from you again soon. Sending you virtual hugs and tears of happiness.

Terra said...

Your attitude toward your hip surgery and new hip is upbeat, and I know you will befriend the walker as you heal. You won't need it for long, and soon you will be out and about again. I walk for exercise like you do, and also in a warm water pool and many of my friends find the pool a good place for exercise after hip replacement.

patricia said...

Yay. I loved this post. I loved how you shared the history of the importance of walking all the way up to the reality of the "walker." So cool. AND, I am so relieved to know you are doing it-NOW. I need details. When exactly? Where? When can I take you to Fred Meyer and watch you zoom around on a scooter? I need to know.

Sandi said...

Oh, Deb, I teared up and laughed out loud as I read this post. I relate to the solitary walker, as that was me for a long, long time. I also prayed myself along on those walks, seeking fulfillment, forgiveness, acceptance. I learned something new! I didn't remember that you were a runner. I was too, and probably about the same time as you. Another of those parallel paths we took, as we meandered into each other's lives!

And, I so completely (as you well know!) recognize the chagrin of being forced to use a walker. But, that damn walker will become your friend, and believe it or not, you'll kind of miss it, (just a little) when you graduate to walking again on your own power.

Funny thing about aging gracefully (which you are!) we accept the things we cannot change much more readily, as reality makes so much more sense when you aren't railing against it!

I can't wait to walk the paths around the park again with you! That day is coming!

Teresa Coltrin@Journaling Woman said...

You'll feel better when you give in to the replacement. And I think the walker is meant to be in your life for a spell--to maybe slow you down a bit? :)

Stacy Crawford said...

Deb, good luck with your surgery. I know Yaya will have some great advice for you being a surgery tech.

I hope you have a speedy recovery.

yaya said...

You are heading into my world for a spell. Working in surgery I've helped on many hip replacements. I've had friends who've had theirs done and wonder why they waited so long. Rehab is your best ticket to the walking world. Do the exercises and all that is required from the physical therapy guru! My problems are my knees and as a person who loves to walk, I know I'll be going down your path soon...walker in tow! But for now I'll just have to be the one helping others get relief. I will say a prayer for your quick recovery and skill of the surgeon's hands. I know you'll do great and I will look forward to your wonderful writing about the experience. Thanks for sharing your past. You write so beautifully.

Jessica Nelson said...

What a beautiful post. I've never been a walker but know several people who are and it seems therapeutic for them.
Yay about the hip!!
My husband's grandma had both hers replaced and came through it beautifully. :-)

kario said...

One of the things I love most about you is your ability to be in nature so completely. To notice everything around you from the way the light falls between the leaves to the sound of water to the sight of a flip of color as a bird takes flight. I know that these things will serve you well as you heal and take a break from walking because you have so fully integrated them in to your routine. Lie back, close your eyes and go for a virtual walk. I suspect you will find many gifts as your new hip heals.

Love.

Barb said...

Deb, The hip surgery will bring a new pain-free chapter to your walking days. A good friend got a hip replacement and is now back to skiing moguls and biking. Using a walker for a short time doesn't mean anything except that you need to heal. Did you read Mary Oliver's new book of poems, A THOUSAND MORNINGS? It would be a good companion for your recovery after surgery. Good Luck!

Dee said...

Dear Deb, I'm glad you are doing this as it will restore to you the arc of your life lived within. The thing about that walker is that you probably won't need it nearly as long as you are fearing right now. The body is amazing in its longing to heal and its ability to do so.

You're young--just 60!!!!! So long as you take care of your body, it will take care of you. And one of the ways it does that is by healing. Be prepared to be surprised by wonder. Peace.

Linda Myers said...

I am delighted that you're going to get a new hip. The few months following the surgery will be a bit limiting, but your hip won't hurt. And you'll walk again as you did before.

Congratulations!

Amber said...

Oh my friend, I will be thinking healing thoughts and offering healing prayers for you. I loved this writing. Those last two paragraphs are golden...

Love.

:)

Retired English Teacher said...

Again, as I read this post, a week after it was written, I connect with you in such deep ways. You and I have so much in common. Walking has always been my joy, my favorite pastime next to reading, and the thing that has kept me sane. I've walked and prayed and cried and meditated many times in my life. I felt absolute release from pressures and concerns as I've walked my beautiful goldens (retrievers) over the years.

This past year has been so hard because of heart issues. I've not been able to walk. My companion in walking, my dear husband, has suffered from so much hip pain he has not been able to walk either.

I'm so glad you are getting a new hip. You seemed to suffer so much when we were on Vashon Island. You will get your life back with this surgery. My husband had his hip replaced nearly three years ago. It was a rough week or two, but his pain was gone when the surgery was over. I think you will be glad to trade in the pain for a few weeks on the walker. Sending love and hugs your way.

#1Nana said...

I wish I lived across the street...I'd bring you soup, and make jokes about your walker! I loved reading the history. Have you written about the cult? I guess I'm a fairly recent follower and haven't read old posts. I hope the surgery brings you a permanent relief from pain.

Pam said...

As we are now into November Deb, this surgery must be getting quite close. I've heard some wonderful success stories with hip replacement particularly from bushwalkers. I'll be thinking of you and wishing you the very best- I'm sure you'll come through with flying colours.

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