NOTHING THAT happened to me that hasn’t happened to millions of other people. But it has consumed my life, to the near exclusion of all else, and perhaps there are lessons for those who are fortunate enough not to have been stripped of their independence and suffered personal violation.
Three weeks ago I tripped, broke several bones and injured an important ligament in my right foot. I cried when the surgeon told me he had to operate, and after two weeks put me in a cast for 12 weeks. Four months of diminished mobility. Loss of control. It seemed like a fate worse than death.
I discovered quickly that crutches are unimaginably exhausting, even the simplest tasks seem overwhelming when you are in pain and there are not too many handicapped parking spaces. Which is to say I might have learned some empathy.
I learned that pain trumps the smart choices that so many hope will save us from spiraling health costs. I didn’t hesitate an instant when the nurse offered a prescription for a knee walker, even though I knew I could buy one online for twice what I spent to rent it for a month. The rental was a three-block drive away, and it was now, and I could not stand another hour on the crutches. A day later, I realized after I made the appointment for pre-surgical lab work that I had forgotten to make sure the lab accepted my insurance; I didn’t call back to check, because after four consecutive days of medical appointments and a week consumed by my injury, it just didn’t matter.
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I discovered how generous my friends and even acquaintances are. People I barely knew eagerly offered to carry bags and open doors and get my walker in and out of the car; friends altered plans to accommodate my needs.
I bawled when, the night before the operation, I read the pre-surgical materials, and realized that I would be completely incapacitated for days, not hours. And then the gut-punch: This was not merely a matter of inconvenience; it was serious surgery, which always carries serious if remote risks. I was scared, for the first time I can remember.
The surgery went well, though I was violently nauseated before and after, and the pain was intense the next day, and I slowly started to drag myself out of bed, and read, and even write a little, and by the fourth day, my toes started to look like toes again, and I was ready to test my limits. I nervously dragged my body into the shower, turned on the water, and passed the first test. The friend in whose home I was recuperating drove me to a restaurant, and I was feeling like life might just be possible again, so I suggested we go by my house, to pick up the mail and something I could wear to Mass the next morning.
Another friend had said the injury would teach me humility, and perhaps it has, but certainly it has taught me appreciation, in surprising ways.
I pulled myself on my behind up the garage steps and onto the floor of my back hallway, and my heart stopped: The back door was ajar, the curtain rod askew and a breeze blowing in through the broken-out window.
As I wandered through my invaded home, I was overcome by a mixture of fear and violation and … thankfulness. I was thankful that I wasn’t home when the burglary occurred. Thankful that my cats weren’t there when the door was left open. I was thankful that I had not been alone when I discovered the break-in, and thankful that my burglar had been quite neat, only opening drawers, not ransacking my home. I was thankful that I was in no physical condition to move back home, so I didn’t have to deal directly with the emotional trauma that I know that will entail.
I was thankful for the friend who rushed right over and boarded over the broken window. Thankful for the other friend who said that, of course, he would repair all the damage, make sure there wasn’t any more and, while he was at it, install a grab bar in my shower.
Upon reflection, I was thankful for my own stupidity: The back door was the third entrance the burglar tried; if I hadn’t left a key in the lock he would have done more damage. If I had hidden the cash instead of leaving it in a jewelry box, he might have torn my house apart looking for hidden treasures.
The next morning I went to Mass, at the price of being a little less than honest about how bad the pain was after too many hours with my foot unelevated. I knelt in agonizing pain to receive the body and blood of our Lord, I teared up during the peace, and I felt myself enveloped by an amazing family of friends who would do anything in the world for me.
For years, one of my daily prayers had been that I would remain healthy enough to take care of myself as long as I needed to. And for two weeks I thought God had said “no” to that prayer. That morning I realized that what he actually said was, “You don’t need to take care of yourself; I have given you a family who will do that.”
Most of us understand, even if we don’t like the people with whom we associate the phrase, that it takes a village to raise a child. What I have recognized, in a way that I’m not sure you can until you are forced to say “thank you” instead of “no thank you” to offers of help, is that it takes a village to live your life.
As we enter this Holy week, and receive Jesus’ new commandment that we love one another as he loved us, and recall that there is no Easter without Good Friday, I pray that you will recognize, find or create your own village — before you have to.
Ms. Scoppe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CindiScoppe.