Empty and fragile is how I've felt the past couple of days, like a china cup with no hot tea.
Full and empty, fast and slow. They're descriptors for how we feel, but often they're misleading: we may think fast leads to full, to more, to something substantial, when it doesn't, necessarily, at all. Sometimes we're so busy trying to make our cup full that we don't even notice what we're filling ourselves with.
Until I broke my arm three weeks ago, everything was fast. I was in a flurry of activity, at work and home, trying to squeeze more and more into each day. The day I broke my arm was Saturday. Up early, trip to the club, Kumon with the boys, lunch at Mocha Mocha and then a few hours to myself. I felt stressed but I headed to the Eaton's Centre anyway, racing from one end of the mall to the other, floor by floor. I can't say it was fun, but perhaps I felt productive. I did get a sports bra.
When I got out of the subway on the way home I passed my favourite boutique. Even though I was late I dashed in, leaving with a tunic on sale. It was almost 6 and we had tickets for a show at 7. From above, I must have looked a comical figure, rushing down our dangerously steep street in my treadless 'indoor' boots, connecting with ice and then sailing back, feet upended, till my right hand touched ground.
I wouldn't be needing the sports bra anytime soon.
I think I'd mistaken fast for full, as if by doing things quickly you amass more, are more. But more of what? I never thought about the contents.
At first I thought I'd just compensate, be really 'good' at having a broken arm. I'd follow the doctor's orders, take my pain meds, get by at work by typing with my non-dominant hand.
What I wasn't counting on was a lot of pain after the arm was casted.
"Why does my arm hurt so much?" I'd ask D'Arcy. "I'm taking the meds."
As the days turned to weeks it became: "What is wrong with me? What am I doing wrong?"
I didn't like being reminded of my weak spot, my frailty.
And I didn't like thinking about how it must have felt for my disabled son Ben to be in a full body cast two years ago. Then I'd replay the scene of when he refused to get back on the operating table, two weeks after his first hip surgery. The hardware had pulled out of the bone, so he had to have the same operation a second time. He had to be forced, fighting, onto the table, with me saying the most inane things like: "Don't you want your leg to get better?" During the tussle the anesthetist's cold, heavy stethoscope swung forward from her neck and hit him, hard, in the head.
At work I couldn't continue to produce at my pre-fall rate. I went to visit my occupational health nurse. We talked about how my workload was going to change, how I'd have to slow some things down, put others on hold. She suggested that my expectations might be the biggest barrier, noting that the first thing I told her when we met was that I was a speed typist. "Louise, " she said gently. "One of your hands is immobilized."
I'd been operating in fast mode, but now I was SLOW, SLOW, SLOW.
I decided to take a week off, to rest up and give myself time to heal. I slept a lot and listened to the radio. I couldn't drive but I ventured out once a day, hobbling around with my eyes peeled for ice. I waited for the return of family members and their helping hands.
"What happens if you're hurt and you don't have anyone to look after you?" I asked D'Arcy, imagining how I'd manage (not) on my own. "What if this happened and you're caring for a child that needs to be carried everywhere?"
You adapt, he said.
Yes, I thought. I had learned some one-handed dressing and cellphone tricks and occasionally my teeth came in useful as a second hand. But I still needed an arm up our outside stairs, my seatbelt fastened and someone to open my child-proof medicine bottle (not to mention shopping, cooking and household chores).
We do adapt, I thought, but not alone. What about people who were on their own?
A friend suggested that perhaps there was a lesson to be found in my week off.
I did notice how happy Ben was in the mornings—now that I only had to worry about getting him out the door. Did it have anything to do with my less frenzied state? Or was he always like that and I was too busy to see?
There were tragedies during the week, some far away like the murder charges against Olympian Oscar Pistorius, others closer to home.
Yesterday I read a presentation on black history month from one of my kids' schools. "If you think you can do it, and if you think you can't do it, you're right," was a quote that featured prominently. I found this little homily hard to stomach after the grisly slides of black slaves with monstrous welts on their backs.
It reminded me of the "Nothing is impossible if you try hard enough" mumbo jumbo I was brought up with, those empty platitudes I actually believed in before I had my son with disabilities.
I began to see how what we really need, what we're often running low on, are courage and compassion, for ourselves and others. And how nurturing those things in ourselves has nothing to do with fast or slow.
That ache in our chest that makes us feel we've lost a part of who we are—that leads us to seek out more and more things, faster and faster, to try to make something bigger of ourselves, to try to prove we're valuable—is the very sign that we need to stop and know we're enough. To do that we have to let in the intangibles of gentleness and kindness.
But often we look to others who care about us for this reminder.
"Tell me that I am myself," implores one of the key characters in Ramona Ausubel's novel No One Is Here But All Of Us. "Tell me that I still am."
If I learned anything this last week, it's a reworking of that quote about the power of positive thinking.
"If you think you can do it ALONE, you're WRONG," is my rewrite. "We need each other."