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Courage, Foolishness and Fear

September 10, 2010

My online friend Mary, wrote of having her first “normal weekend.” She wrote about a sightseeing trip with her husband and of acting as if she did not have heart disease or any physical limitations. She wrote of pushing beyond her realm of comfort and defying her body by walking on beyond breathlessness and her subtle and familiar chest discomfort. Admitting to extra sleep (with naps on tour bus) and pharmaceutical support, her only overt display of her handicapped status was at the end of the touring when she succumbed to the offer of an elevator ride rather than additional stairs. I recognized myself in her writing.

So many times in the past couple of months, I too have had normal moments, hours, even weekends. Some came naturally, when I realized at the end of the moment or day or outing that I had forgotten the threat that lingers near. Some of these times have been deliberate, when I chose to act as if there were no limits to my ability to join in and participate as before. Though I had not given this thought before today, after reading of Mary’s experience, I realize that the times that came naturally brought on few symptoms. The times when I pretended and pushed through blaring symptoms led to excitement but eventual sadness and even grief.

Two such times come to mind, both at grandsons’ birthday parties. Both parties involved giant inflatable water slides and, and I forget the name, a game using bean bags where you take turns throwing bean bags about twenty feet onto a college team decorated board with a hole in it. The object of the game is to at least get your bags on the board, preferably in the hole and not knocking your opponent’s bags in the hole in the process.

At the first party, after most of the children had gone home, I gave in to plees to go down the water slide. I use to love water slides. At first, I only sat at the bottom of the slide and watched as others came flying down, splashing into the small pool at the bottom, enjoying the cooling effect of the spray that covered me with each splash. I really was content to just watch with only slight twinges of envy towards everyone else as they squealed and screamed and flew and splashed. As each member of my family climbed out of the pool after their thrilling slide, they encouraged me to try it, assuring me I could do it, reminding me how much fun it was. Finally, I caved. I knew better. Yet, I wanted to go down that slide so much!

I slowly climbed to the top with ample familial assistance, painfully aware of how weak not just my legs are, but every muscle of mine is. It took every ounce of strength to pull my body up those air-filled tiny steps, holding onto the little rope handles every few feet. At the top, I had to sit for a while and rest, sitting in the cool spray designed to keep the slide slick. I took some deep breaths, recalling all the times I had sat at the top of water slides, anticipating the thrill. I recalled how I could let go and allow my body to fly free, safely inside the boundaries of the slide itself, knowing I would land without harm, cushioned by water and air. I remembered how I knew just how to hold my body for speed and how I knew just how to land. Finally, with family waiting at the bottom to aid in my dismount and others at the ready with cameras pointed at me, I pushed off.

I sped a few feet downward with a slight veering to the left. At the first slight hump, my body lunged to the far left, the skin of my left arm becoming one with the only exposed Velcro on the whole huge thing. For a couple of feet, the Velcro and my skin were one. Then, I met the next hump and my body went airborne, landing at the bottom, arms, legs and frame sideways into the small pool, stopping abruptly into the inflated, air filled wall beyond it. Had I been thrown from a moving vehicle, I suspect it might have felt much the same.

The faces of my family told the tale. Looks of horror were covered by roaring laughter. The words, “Are you alright?” barely discernible between their fits and starts of concern buried in their undeniable hysterics. Their mouths still hung open and negated all attempts to appear afraid I had been harmed. Laughing until they cried, they could barely see through their tears as they tried to help me from the pool, their feet sliding on the wet rubber beneath them, all of us landing back in the water more than once.

The blood oozing from my battered elbow was barely a hint of the battering my body had just endured. Like the others, my own laughter could not be suppressed, the joke having more than one meaning and the laughter the release of more than one stress. They laughed as they asked if I wanted to go again, claiming to know just what went wrong, scrambling to tuck in the exposed Velcro, assuring me next time would be better and telling me how awesome it was when I went airborne… Had someone had a video camera rolling, I have no doubt at least a small fortune could have been made. Had it been posted on YouTube, surely it would have gone viral in minutes.

My relief at having survived helped to mask the grief I felt over having lost the ability to enjoy a water slide. Another part of my life was over. I knew it before. I just had to have proof. I had it now. Like my arteries, my muscles and joints were hardening as well. Gone was flexibility, strength, endurance and grace. Intact was courage, willingness,  humor and even a bit of foolishness.

Two months later, the same set up was used at another grandson’s birthday party. This time, I didn’t even go near the water slide, staying perched in a lawn chair about forty yards away. I stayed in the shade, away from the hot sun, non-tempted by the cool water of the slide. No one begged me to try it again. Towards the end of the day however, I walked over to the bean bag game. I picked up a bag and threw it. It landed squarely on the board. A game began, Lee teaming up with my daughter, her boyfriend my teammate. My son in law’s mother kept score as we played two games. Not only was I enjoying myself, but I was pretty good at this bean bag throwing. I recalled how good I use to be at shuffle board. I didn’t have to pull or push or pretend.

Both events were amazing. Both events were even fun. I really came out fine both times. The road rash on my arm from the Velcro healed in a week or so and the bruises that appeared took a bit longer to fade. I can’t wait to throw another bean bag. Maybe I could handle a lazy tube ride down the river a little better than a water slide…or would that be pretending again?

I believe I have to do both, participating normally without thought, finding I still can, and also pretending and pushing the limits and finding the boundaries of my limitations more confining than I realized. I tell people often when they ask how I am, that I have figured out my limits and learned to live within them. That is not entirely true. The truth is, I am not so uncomfortable with discomfort and not so afraid of pain. I know I can sweep the floor. I know if I keep sweeping, I’ll get short of breath and my jaw will hurt. I know too, that I can keep sweeping anyway, at least for a couple of minutes. I know I can rest a few minutes and begin sweeping again. I know I can do this without most people noticing. I know too that I will continue to discover those limits and I will test them as courage or foolishness or fear allows. All three seem to serve me well.  I guess my life isn’t really so different from before.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mary permalink
    September 10, 2010 3:44 pm

    Tears. Cheers. Sigh. Sweep as you choose, my friend.

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