We were a rather haggard looking bunch, my family and I, as we walked through the neighborhood on a hot, summer day.
My mom was hardly visible beneath the sheath of cooling gear we’d dressed her in. An oversized khaki vest, which, if you didn’t know was meant to keep a person cool thanks to its pouches for ice packs, you might mistake for fisherman-wear.
Her face was obscured entirely by a nude-colored sunhat. Its back half was floppy, while the front consisted of three semi-rigid panels, capable of being in one of two positions: down, so that the brim extended well past her nose, or up, in a kind of crown-meets-sailor-hat style. Picture the way a child might draw rays around a sun and you’re not far off. And the capper to the nursing home escapee aesthetic: she sported a neck brace that gave her face (not that we could see it) the appearance of being a scoop of ice cream, stuck up in a waffle cone.
My sister had been sick all week with some mysterious virus.
I was limping slightly, having pissed off the tendons on the top of my foot by way of overly tightened laces on a pair of worn out volleyball shoes.
My dad was limping too, as he had been for the past, what, five years? The cost of caretaker-self-neglect.
I watched him walk in front of me.
“How’s your foot situation, lately, dad?”
He had been prescribed and fitted for orthotics, he said, and was scheduled to pick them up in the coming days.
“But I’m supposed to be moving it.”
For years, all I’d heard about that achilles was that it had to be coddled by wearing special shoes.
“Yeah, my doctor told me to stop listening to the pain and start moving it.”
We ambled on through the neighborhood, stopping every couple of blocks to drink water, check the level in the pee bag, check to see that my mom was still alive under there. We were a haggard looking bunch, indeed: a woman (?) in a wheelchair who recalled visions of Seinfeld’s bubble-boy, two limps, and a post-fever malaise gone walking.
But we were, each in our own way, and together in one big way, not listening to the pain, I realized. We were listening to the desire to participate in life, and were heeding the sun’s simple instructions to be outside.
Pain instructs, they say. Our pain tells us about our desires, it sheds light on the needs we have that aren’t being met. Pain tells us what’s right for us, and what’s wrong. Pain puts everything in perspective. But eventually, after we’ve decided to learn whatever we need to learn, after we’ve decided to forgive ourselves or others, the instruction from pain we must listen for is the urgent call to rejoin life and joy, and to put ourselves, once again, way out there on the twig of hope that life can still be sweet.
Block after block, we heard only the rhythm of resiliency in the form of our footsteps forward, and the constant, varied rumble of the wheelchair crossing over the sidewalk cracks.