I can’t hold it any longer. I leap out of my sleeping bag and into the frosty morning. My bladder is about to burst. Traffic rushes by while I dance my way into my shoes and fumble with my belt. I do my best covert pee-pee dance over to the only shrub tall enough to block passing commuters from seeing my body’s response to the cold and relieve this urgent matter. That’s better.
Now that I’ve silenced my bladder I can hear the screams of my injured foot again. Lovely. My foot is getting stronger, but the cold mornings are still tough. I have to be mindful of every step, if I keep my steps to smooth surfaces I can reduce the pain from screaming to loud. It’s still all I think about, but it keeps me from grunting bad words. This is typical for winter mornings now that the overnight lows are falling into the 20’s. My muscles freeze overnight and I wake up to my stride reduced to a waddle. I call it “old-man mode”, and old-man mode has stoplight crosswalks feeling like four minute miles. I’m about to run one now. Joy.
The pedestrian lights up and I’m off. I break into the old man shuffle across the street and take that last step just as the timer hits zero. Phew, we’re halfway across the road. Yes, I only made it to the median. And yes it’s humiliating. I’m thirty years old and can’t even make it across the full cross walk within the allotted time. I do my best to blend into the median and limit the humiliating feeling of my pEDestrian dysfunction. I am the divider splitting the traffic rushing by, the draft from each side breezing by me from opposing directions, leaving me pinched in the swirl of arctic air stinging my cheeks. Mother Nature suddenly feels like annoying aunt nature. Just look at those cheeks.
The commuters waiting for the green light from the halted sides stare at me while they craft stories in their heads in search of one that ends with a thirty year old in my current situation. No drugs sir, Mother Nature just took my legs for fifty laps around the sun while I was asleep.
The light finally turns green. Traffic remains frozen. Shit. The driver in the front of the line is waving me ahead. No you go, I can’t move that fast. Horns erupt behind him. He insists again anyway. Damn it, we’re halting traffic. I clinch my teeth, brace myself for the pain and then scurry across the road. There are so many impatient eyes on me, I feel like I’m walking the plank. Correction. I feel like I’m waddling the plank. Peg-leg limp and all. He’s a nice guy, I remind myself and fight the urge to give him the parrot.
To be clear, I don’t really hate the guy. I love nearly everyone these days, but I do feel like an ass when I slow all these people down when they have places to be. I haven’t forgotten the rush of everyday life. The rush is terrible. The ugly ways it makes you act towards others is even worse. I don’t want to make anyone feel ugly.
My shuffle only lasts another fifteen minutes before my muscles begin to loosen up and I regain the ability to stride out, finally freeing my mind from the need to plan every step. I get to look up and experience the world. I can see the dog on the other side of the road walking its owner. Its tail swishes back and forth with the bounce of each happy step. It’s smiling. I love dogs. Whistling swing sets whisper under the screaming children down the road and the sunlight kissing my face is warm and comforting. I love the sun.. 🎶 Whenever you’re around, I always seem to smile, And people ask me how, Well, you’re the reason why, I’m dancing in the mirror and singing in the shower 🎶 This song coming from my headphones is about me and my backpack. Life is so beautiful.
This is how every winter morning unfolds. I wake deprived of my mobility, and every step causes pain and discomfort. It’s the best thing to happen to me everyday because when it disappears, all of life’s beauty screams so much louder. I’m reminded daily to be grateful for my health. To be grateful that it doesn’t distract me from the little things. I start the day with gratitude and that is the right foot.
I know it sounds crazy, but think back to anytime you’ve ever had a stuffy nose that left you regretting all the times you took breathing easily for granted. What if all the prayers and promises to be grateful for the ability breath freely actually worked and the stuffiness disappeared? It’d be a gift right? Well, my prayers are granted everyday. I’m reminded daily that my ability to walk pain free is a gift I won’t always wake up to. I’m reminded that our health is fleeting, and I’m given a glimpse into what it’ll be like to mourn it once it’s gone. It’s like a premonition that allows me to prepare for what’s to come. These same concepts can also be applied to our youth. To our time. But do you know what they can’t be applied to? Death. Death is not fleeting it’s final.
I am going to die, and I’m okay with that. One day I will close my eyes and exhale for the final time. And I’ll never know it, and that’s why I do not fear death. I will not be present to feel life’s absence. There will be no pain. No suffering. No time to mourn its loss. No time to reflect on the breaths I didn’t take. No time to long for the life I had but didn’t use. No, time will never imprison me in a longing I can never reach. My life will be taken, but never lost.
This isn’t true of my health. My ability to walk. To climb mountains. Go on hikes or climb stairs. I’ll be around to miss all of that. To remember the comfort I chose when I stayed in bed instead of climbing mountains. The comfort I chose when I had the option and will be forced to choose again one day without options. I’ll be trapped in its prison looking back at the past between its bars and wish I could have that choice back. The same goes for my time. I’ll be around to regret giving my time away to work instead of spending it on my dreams and the people I care about. I’ll be around to regret giving up my youth too soon. To regret racing towards the finish line of a race I never cared about.
Health, youth, and time. These are the things I will be alive to long for. I will lose them and feel their loss. They are the itches that stop being scratched. Breaths my lungs will scream for and never inhale. This is what I’m scared of, being around after these final breaths and living to regret not taking more when I had the chance. This is death to me. Being alive to mourn the loss of something I can’t get back. I refuse to live my life preparing for death, I’m consciously choosing to live happily over dying comfortably. We all have to choose our priority. Live comfortably until the end or thrive in the middle. Is your life an assignment? Or is it your story?