Toe Bone Teacher

August 2, 2010

At first, it was humbling, a little embarrassing, and, well, slow. This was the fifth or sixth time I’d broken a pinkie toe, and there was nothing much to do except tape it to its neighbor.  Having done this all the other times, I knew what to expect. (I once set a fractured thumb on a popsicle stick; why pay someone else for your own common sense?)  I had no idea how much rushing around I constantly do until the toe incident sort of kicked the legs out from under my ability to make every activity a kind of small hurdle race.

Almost as slowly and difficulty as the impaired toe itself, I learned something from the otherwise frustratingly short tether afforded by the pain: the art of walking.  It didn’t start out that way: but eight weeks is long enough to become resigned to something that no amount of wanting is going to bring the desired change — except for a change of mind.  The joy of taking steps, slowly; like sipping a choice beverage; to rush through would be to miss the moment entirely.

I’m not sure if I first noticed it as the pleasure of walking. one. foot. fall. at. a. time. and. then. the. other…and the corresponding awareness, the simple appreciation of covering ground. Of accomplishing a distance. Being fully in the step. You have time to ponder these sorts of things when your stride is, oh, say, five to seven times slower than your usual pace.

After settling into this new groove, I found it was not only enjoyable to just sort of stroll around doing errands or walking into or out of work, but it was in a strange way powerful. Not what I was looking for. I was merely looking to not get hurt just walking into the post office on a pathetic little broken toe bone.  But as I more felt than saw people hurrying around me in an all too familiar mode, realized how off-center I’d been, caught up in many little whirlwinds of busyness that just never seemed to let up.

There is something about a slow, resting walk that is a reminder that things will get accomplished whether I work up a tizzy in the doing, or not. I now find myself walking slowly simply because it is more enjoyable. It somehow makes me feel like I am the one in control, and less bullied by the transient demand of the moment.

In the wake of knee surgery three days ago, I have been pondering the break as an inadvertant precursor to labored mobility. The toe after all had only healed about two weeks before the surgery. I ran, jumped and danced the day before the arthroscopy to remind my muscles that the momentary interruption to come would lead to more running, jumping and dancing than I have been capable in years, thanks to the discovery of a small tear in cushiony cartilage that could have been repaired years ago, had I not been so fearful of a diagnosis of ‘inoperable.’

I can hardly call my post-op hobble ‘walking’ yet. But I am confident the momentary slower pace, even slower than the new normal slow, will be easier than it would have been before the Lesson of the Toe.


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