OUR MORNING WALK
"You're going to have to be patient through the pain..."
Returning from a late June high-altitude climb in Ecuador, I entered through U.S. Customs with a variety of trinkets and souvenirs; an assortment of pan flutes for my children, a handcrafted necklace and local chocolate for my wife and a slightly injured ankle that would soon come to be a gift unto myself.
Following a lull during the Fourth of July Weekend in which I regaled my family with stories from the Equator, I hit the road once again to begin my delayed training for the Twin Ciites Marathon scheduled in October. On an early morning weekend long run, I found myself successful in avoiding a head-on collision with the regular traffic on Highway 78 in Minnesota. Yet in my attempt to avoid such an accident, I stepped right into one. Weaving between the highway's white line and the uneven shoulder of Highway 78, my already injured ankle took a proverbial "turn for the worst." Catching the shoulder's edge, my ankle twisted outward to the left and an unfamiliar "pop" was felt, followed by a sudden rush of pain. It was a pain - like a knife through the back of the ankle - that I would try to endure while running for the next week before seeking medical advice.
The sports physician whom I consult for just such "accidents" would explain to me that I "ruptured the connective tissue" surrounding my Achilles tendon and the pain would remain constant for the next several months. Diagnosis and prescription: It may take six months to a year for recovery; switch out from running and cross train with light cycling. In addition, it would be necessary to have follow-up sessions with a physical therapist. And the Twin Cities Marathon would elude me for the fourth fall season in a row...
In my initial meeting with the physical therapist, my questions poured: "How long will I have to cross train before I can get back on my ankle again? Should I be icing it? Is there anything else that I can do for a faster recovery than one year?"
She examined my ankle and then stated the words that I will remember forever.
"Well, first of all, what I want you to do is to get back on your ankle. You need to get out there and running on that leg. Your ankle didn't get this way overnight and it's not going to mend overnight either. So I have an exercise regiment I want you to follow, but you're going to have be patient through the pain..."
She stated so much more in that initial meeting, much of which was muffled static at that point. Patience through the pain. You need to listen to your body. Get back out there and run until it reaches a moderate pain.
Following that initial consultation, I would meet with this physical therapist twice a week. The first half of the session was "ultrasounding" the injured area and then the painful task of strenously massaging the scar tissue that had formed since the last session. The second half of the session was the task of my physical therapist to strenously massage my ego back to where it should be by reminding me, "You need to be listening to your body... patience through the pain... patience through the pain..."
Granted, my physical pain is next to nothing compared to the loss of a job, loss of or distance from a loved one, or a wide assortment of personal tragedies. It isn't even in the same ballpark or state. But, for me, the experience has been an oddly refreshing reminder of the sheer power of perspective.
There is so much more of Life, my friend, that we do not understand compared to what we are able to comprehend. And as it is proverbally stated, "The more we learn, the more we come to realize how much we truly do not know." It might very well be the very human condition into which we are born and must befriend throughout our daily journey. But the gentle grace to sustain us through it all is perhaps lies within our acceptance of the renewing process of patience through the pain. And not only toward ourselves, but toward one another.
How often we want to quickly resolve and forget our pains and struggles... and move on... And even more often, how we want to solve and dismiss the pains and struggles of our family, friends and colleagues. You may even have heard the phrase or uttered it yourself, "Life goes on and we have to go on as well." This is true, but the scars left behind from a pain dismissed or unaddressed can leave a person undetached, bitter, cynical... or worse...
The pain - your emotional pain, my physical pain, our spiritual pain - takes time to heal. It didn't arrive to the place of "pain" overnight, nor will it heal overnight. As is the gentle and dynamic process of Life, it simply... takes... time...
In a similar vein, I'm amazed at how often I've had to remind myself that just because I'm not in pain (emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, etc.), doesn't mean that others and the greater world are balanced and fine. We all find ourselves victim to this same mindset: All is right with me, so all must be right with the world. And yet, standing right next to us, unsuspecting, is a fellow being in deep emotional pain. That person you just cut off in traffic this morning may very well be suffering from a personal pain of unimaginable depth. And that person you shun or dismiss or judge this afternoon may be dealing with a spiritual pain that aches to their very core.
Life remains a grand journey of varying paces and paths, my friend. We travel alone, we travel side-by-side, and we travel in a myriad of intersecting patterns. But a journey all the same and one that requires patience, persistence and perspective.
To you, I wish patience through your pain today, persistence through your tomorrow and perspective to learn from that pain. Through it all, be good to yourself and others. Through it all, be understanding of yourself and others. Through it all, be forgiving of yourself and others. And through it all, remain patient, my friend.
Post Note: One month prior to my departure for Ecuador, I was informed that my next door neighbor Kathleen would need to undergo brain surgery in early September. Again. A repeat of a dangerous procedure that she underwent five years prior. Following her September operation, I spoke with her about her surgery and long-term recovery. And I was absolutely amazed at her ability - and need - to be personally patient through her pain. Kathleen simply said to me, "I just want to take each moment and day as it comes - with its own struggles and blessings... one moment, one day at a time..."
Kathleen, you are a shining example of facing that fear, that pain, that unknown head-on and remaining hopeful... and patient... To you, Kathleen (and family), eternal patience, prayers and presence through and beyond your pain.