I went back to physical therapy this week. It wasn’t exactly a cakewalk, but nothing hurt. Just a couple of weeks ago, and for months before that, I was sure I was going to need a third round of surgery, and I was dreading it, and every mental and emotional muscle I had was focused on forestalling that event as long as possible. My knee actually did hurt, but that was nothing compared to the fear I was feeling about the expense, the helplessness, the months of recovery, the exhaustion.
Exhaustion didn’t necessarily have to be a part of it this time, anyway. My last two surgeries just happened to coincide with my two hardest semesters in grad school, the ones with the most high-maintenance classes, the most all-nighters, the least control. At the end of that second semester with knee surgery, after twelve weeks of crutches, I got home at 7 pm the night of our final design review and couldn’t figure out what was wrong with my electricity. I stood there in my bedroom trying to identify the source of the flickering light, and realized that every time I blinked, the light dispersed in all directions like waves. I was so tired I was hallucinating. I took off my knee brace, crawled into bed fully dressed, and slept for eighteen straight hours.
The conversation with my doctor went something like this:
“You can not drive yourself nonstop for an entire semester.”
“Oh, but I have to. They will fail out 1/4 of our class.”
“I’m have no choice.”
It’s no wonder I have a little PTSD when I think about all of that.
At any rate, the root of the whole problem this time was fear. I knew the success rate from the last surgery wasn’t great, and I figured it was just a matter of time. I stopped running a couple of years ago because I felt every step in my knee. I haven’t knelt down in five years. I can’t watch sports without thinking OW OW OW that looks dangerous. I’ve been so, so careful and protective, and that’s caused the muscles in my knee to do one thing, and the tendons to do another, and the ligaments to do something else entirely, and we are not working as a team. Well, we weren’t as of a couple of weeks ago. My doctor told me I was solid, healed, a total success, and I shouldn’t be afraid of re-injury.
So he made me try to kneel down in his office. It was terrifying. I didn’t make it all the way. But I’ve been practicing it in yoga, in little bursts. It’s still so scary that my arms shake every time, and I’ll cry if you make me talk about it, but I’m starting to trust it.
Julia and I were talking in the car about the whole thing. “Do you realize what a huge life metaphor this is?” she asked.
“English major,” I answered.
“I mean, I can’t stop thinking about it. Seriously. What is ever made better in life by being guarded? Anything? I can’t think of anything.”
“You know the C.S. Lewis quote, right? The really upsetting one?”
She didn’t, and I paraphrased it for her. She agreed. It’s upsetting. It goes like this: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
I know. Upsetting, right? Guard anything too closely and it becomes not only safe, but also paralyzed? Last year this time I wrote a post on the same theme, about “unwrapping your guarded heart.” I promised I would spend the year thinking about it. I’m not sure it’s been a successful endeavor. The theme of this year seemed to be less about charging forward, freely and open-heartedly, than dealing with unforeseen issues, solving problems, and regrouping. I wrote about that, too.
Let’s declare that chapter closed. Old issues have been resolved. Old wounds have healed. The tide is turning, right? Time to charge forward freely and open-heartedly?
I bought these today. I’m going trail running again. Who’s in?