During Easter week of this year, on a rainy morning, I was stepping out of the office at my local auto repair place when I misjudged the step down to the street, twisted to the left, felt a crack, and ended up face down on my hands and knees. From the feel of things, it was serious. A couple of hours later, in the ER, my fears were confirmed: I had a hairline fracture of the bone in my ankle. Next step: a cast from my toes to my knees, for six weeks.
My time on crutches, followed by four weeks or so in a Velcro boot, forced a huge change in my routine. Suddenly, things seemed farther away, obstacles were everywhere, and stuff was always falling someplace I couldn’t reach. I lumbered along, unable to do some of the things that I would normally perform with speed. I was dependent on others to a greater degree than usual. I had to ask for help—something I do not like to do!
It wasn’t all that serious of an injury, but a cast is a cast, no matter the break it is mending. It was still a heavy, awkward weight to drag around, protect, and maneuver in and out of cars, buildings and crowds. I was not always the most patient of patients—my community members at the friary occasionally were on the receiving end of my frustrations.
At the parish and here at St. Anthony Messenger Press, the crutches got me lots of sympathy, but the story’s retelling soon became old. To relieve the boredom, I even tried making up stories. My personal best was that I suffered an RCIA-related injury, attempting to dive into my parish’s baptismal font at Easter! Some folks even believed that one—for a while.
My brief time with cast and crutches, slowed down and burdened, can in no way be compared to those who must face some permanent, major obstacle to movement, speech, hearing or sight. But this period did immediately change my awareness. I began to see handicapped signs, to be frustrated with doors, sidewalks, bathrooms, and other things in the physical environment that can present barriers to those working with a disability. I tried to imagine the world from a different perspective. I am hoping that I’ve gained some new understanding.
Now, almost five months later, I am moving at nearly my usual quick pace. A mild ache in my toes and ankle reminds me of the injury, and I am careful about where I step. I haven’t forgotten. As I continue to heal, I wonder, however, if the reflecting I did on disabilities will stay with me. During my time on crutches, I began to take pride in my adaptations, my “abilities” within what earlier I would have described as “disability.” That awareness suggests to me a whole new way of defining who is or who is not “disabled” and what that even means.
My orthopedist is hopeful that I will walk more carefully. My confreres at the friary are no doubt glad I’m not hobbling in and out of their lives. My more reflective friends would like to see me more “mindful” of what I am doing. For myself, seeing the past five months as a real time of grace is an important reminder of how helpful it can be to gain a new perspective.