Let's get this out of the way up front: I had no business being on skis in the first place. You would think that at forty six I'd be old enough to know a bad idea when I hear one. You would be wrong. In one of those what-were-you-thinking moments, the result of too much wine and too little forethought the night before, I uttered the four most dangerous words in the English language: "hell yeah, I'm in!"
Now, I've been skiing before so it's not like I didn't know what I was doing, and, you know, I am in pretty good shape for my age. I eat well, work -- well, worked -- out daily, and still fit into the tattered Blue Oyster Cult (size medium) t-shirt I bought at a concert for 8 bucks in 1982 (memorable because Robbie Krieger of The Doors tottered out for the encore to play "Road House Blues." What can I say: I was sixteen and easily impressed). Still, it wasn't until I actually got off the chair lift at the top of the hill and stood blinking in the blinding February sunshine that I had any misgivings about what I was about to do. Right off the bat things felt off. Three disconcertingly skilled toddlers shooshed effortlessly by me at the same time a hulking teen on a snowboard cut across my path. Music was blaring, people were shouting and moving all around me... all I can say is it was disorienting. So I fell. Badly.
You know that stereotypical arms flailing, eyes popping, mouth gaping, body wracking skier wipeout that makes people wince and look away? Somehow I managed that on level ground. No kidding: I wasn't even on the slope yet. One second I'm gently gliding over to "The Lazy Loop" and the next I'm curled up in a tight ball clutching my knee. I thought I'd been shot. According to the perplexed ski patrol guys who had to stretcher me down the hill, this was inarguably the safest spot in the entire resort, less than fifty feet from their patrol shack. They didn't even need radios: they heard my agonized screams over the din of a busy day on the slopes with what they all agreed was unusual clarity (as did, I should mention, a gaggle of curious 9 year olds, one of whom nicely asked "is that lady ok?" I guess the pitch of my screams confused him).
It has been 6 weeks now, and my knee is not much better. I anticipate needing surgery to repair torn ligaments (I'll find out this week) and while the prospect isn't pleasant, I have been thinking a lot about what this experience has taught me. It turns out there have been some surprisingly positive effects that have been the answers to some of my prayers.
1. I have been graced with patience: I must walk verrrry slowly and take care not to twist, pivot, bend, flex or even bump my knee. Getting anywhere on foot now takes me 5x longer than before. I am a professional rusher and now I cannot rush anywhere. I have to take my time (take my time, take my time, take my time ) so I could either grow enraged or accept patience. I chose patience.
2. I have been graced with humility: It has always been very important to my ego to be good at stuff, to learn new stuff, and to be thought of as the go-to guy when you want to know about stuff. While the trigger for my decision to ski was a glass or two more wine than was strictly necessary, the cause was my egotistical belief I couldn't fail. The throbbing pain, exhaustion, discomfort and awkward, lurching gait I've endured are daily reminders that I can fail quite spectacularly.
3. I have been graced with empathy: It has always baffled me why otherwise healthy-looking adults walk. so. damn. slow. My motto was no cane, no crutches, no sympathy. But two weeks ago at work I planted my foot wrong and turned a little too far and suddenly my leg was on fire. I pinwheeled my arms for balance and (I can't believe I'm telling you this) almost fell backwards into the toilet (and yes, the seat was up). I appear healthy in all respects to others but I now know why slow is good.
4. I have been graced with humor: Telling everyone how I hurt my knee got old really fast, and more than a few people seemed to revel in a little gleeful schadenfreude. But mostly people ask out of concern, and I can see that some people feel very bad for me. But in the big picture a mucked-up knee isn't all that serious a misfortune, so I treat it that way. This has opened a new mine of humour for me, all at my own expense, that keeps things light-hearted and silly, and that's a feeling that lingers when I might otherwise tend toward self-pity.
5. I have been graced with forbearance: I have no choice but to live with the discomfort of this injury. I have no choice but to walk slowly, sit carefully, and stand hesitatingly. I have no choice but to feel the twinges of pain and weirdly unpainful but alarming pinching sensation behind my kneecap when I step wrong. I have no choice but to spend most of what should be free time with my kids on the couch with my knee iced, compressed and elevated. I have no choice because these are the consequences of my injury. My choice isn't whether I live with them but how.
Don't wait until you hurt yourself the way I did to open your eyes to the blessings that sometimes arrive in unexpected ways. I have often prayed for patience, humility, empathy, humour and forbearance.
I got them. Boy, did I ever.