Raising cane
Thursday November 01st 2007, 12:25 pm
Filed under: Life

cane you handle it?

Today is the seventh anniversary. The officer looked in my window and whistled, “Boy. He hit you HARD.”

The schoolbuses stopped running after Proposition 13 in the 70’s in California. Many of the kids are now driven by their parents, and 2000 students converge on one square block here every day.

One of our children had a serious bike accident on the way to school at 13: she flipped at high speed, landed head first, broke her helmet, and rolled with enough force still to break her shoulder. I will never forget the sight of her lying in the road–the neighbor down a ways got her phone number out of her while she was still lucid enough to give it. The school later put her helmet on permanent display, to show This Is Why We Wear These; I’d never been so grateful to a kid for obeying even when out of my sight. She remembered our driving to Oakland every week, back when she’d been in first grade, to visit my friend’s son at Children’s recovering from a head injury from being hit by a drunk driver; she wore that helmet. Thank goodness.

So I went back to driving everybody. (I often carpooled.) I couldn’t bike with the kids with my lupus; I make antibodies to my DNA in reaction to UV light. I needed that windshield between the sun and me.

There was another parent we frequently saw as I drove the youngest to his middle school: he was ADD on wheels, and scary. We saw him pulling illegal U-turns immediately in front of oncoming cars as they slammed their brakes, and all kinds of stunts as if he were the only car on the road. I remember exclaiming, “That guy’s an accident waiting to happen!”

A few days later, my light turned green; I turned left, and I was coming up to the usual logjam and slowing to a stop. John and I were relaxed, laughing, when suddenly there was one of the loudest sounds I’d ever heard. My vision was as scrambled as a kaleidoscope and we seemed airborne. I have no memory of hitting the car ahead, and about twenty minutes there are lost to me.

It was that dad behind me.

Thus the canes. (And the wall a tad scratched from all the times I’ve dropped them there.) My balance is random: if there’s too much visual stimulation, my left side gives way. I need the muscle feedback to negotiate my way through things.

I’ve come to learn a few things over the years. That first cane on the left is annoying: if you put it over your arm, leaning on the conveyor belt to write out your check at Safeway, it clatters to the floor and just misses the next person in line. It’s in permanent time-out.

The leopardwood one on the right is my favorite. Karen bought it in Williamsburg, Virginia, and called me in great excitement on her cell, saying, “I found the perfect cane for you!” She was absolutely right. The Africana one in the middle is her latest gift, and after we whack a couple of inches off the bottom, it’ll get a lot of use, too; it’s like my own personal in-joke towards a doctor or two I have known: “If you hear hoofbeats, think zebras…”

But the point I’m slowly getting to is this: yes, like anybody else who’s gone through something like this, I could certainly have done without this in my life. And yet, and yet… I’ve had experiences that never would have happened otherwise…

John had a doctor’s appointment a few years ago, and I took him to Jamba Juice afterwards. I was exhausted, the line was long, and there was one high barstool left in the crowded place to sit at. I told him what I wanted to order, since there was no way I could hear the clerk over the noise level anyway, and I went to that stool and sat down. (Up, actually.)

The guy who’d been in front of us in that line seemed agitated the whole time. He finally got up to the front of the lunchtime crowd, placed the order for his smoothie, and turned sharply to the side to go sit down while they filled it–and saw me sitting there, where he’d expected to go. Darn! I caught his eye just as he was turning back away, clearly disappointed, and asked him, with a smile, “Would you like this seat?”

He stopped. He took a long look first at the cane dangling from my arm. He glanced up to my eyes. He saw that I meant it. He saw that I wanted him to be having a better day than he was having. He melted on the spot, and said, “No. No, I guess I’ve sat enough.” And then he told me a little about his day, about his frustrations he’d had at work that morning that had left him feeling that what he’d had to contribute hadn’t been listened to or appreciated. He was clearly relieved at having someone, anyone, to unload it to. Someone who actually cared.

They called his name just then, he gathered up his smoothie, turned back to me, bowed his head deeply for just a moment, and said, warmly, “Have a GOOD day!” And he was gone.

It was just a blink in a life. But it had such an impact that, whoever he was, I know I will never forget, and I doubt he will either. I came away marvelling at the power of a simple gesture of thinking of the well-being of another person, shared both ways.

And I knew, I knew, that that cane had been a trigger, a visual symbol to him that something–he didn’t know what, but something, I wasn’t some old person for whom it was just the natural order of things as you age, I was someone he could better relate to than that, more his age–something had happened to me. Which meant I could understand when things happened to him. Because I had a smile on my face, and I was willing to share it with him.

That was just the first of quite a few experiences, but one of the most intense. I would never wish my car accident on anyone. And yet, I’m glad for the good that has come from it. Somehow, it all balances out. And it’s okay.

12 Comments so far
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Thank you.

Comment by Karen 11.01.07 @ 1:59 pm

I am sitting here in tears. What a touching story, and, again – thanks for sharing. I wish everyone could take lessons from you, my friend.

Hope you had a GOOD day, too.

Comment by Amanda 11.01.07 @ 3:21 pm

Jsut a little reminder of the fact that you can almost always think of something worse than what you are currently delaing with. My personal mantra is, “well, it oculd be worse, like…” and then fill in the blank with something suitable. Keeps me out of the pity parties.

Comment by Carol 11.01.07 @ 7:24 pm

What a wonderful job you do of expressing a positive viewpoint about what must be a daily struggle! You have made my day!

Comment by Panhandle Jane 11.02.07 @ 5:08 am

I really needed to read this yesterday. I was feeling very grumpy and a shade sorry for myself. (NOT my usual demeanor, thank goodness.) A very difficult and physically demanding week brought me smack face first up against limitations (again) and renewed my sense of being trapped by my physical boundaries. (dog sick, cat escaped, both requiring me to take too many forbidden steps on my fragile ankle). All is well again cat and dog-wise, but the physical repercussions remain.
Your post reminded me it is not our boundaries or abilities that determine our happiness, but our attitude. {{{{{{{Alison}}}}}}}}
Sincere Thanks.

Comment by Diana Troldahl 11.02.07 @ 7:52 am

Attitude is so much bigger than many people think. You have chosen to be positive and many people beyond yourself have benefitted. If only we all realized how much of our happiness depends on our own choices and decisions.

Comment by Lisa 11.02.07 @ 2:04 pm

I wondered how the canes came to be a part of your life. I understand completely about being grateful for what the good that has come from such a terrible thing. There was a time I wouldn’t have understood, but the past few years have taught me to see the good. Thanks for sharing and thanks for smiling at the man and giving him the time he needed.

Comment by Vicki 11.02.07 @ 3:34 pm

“And it’s OK”.

It is, isn’t it? The weirdest thing in the world is finding that serious, permanent damage, once past the healing and adapting phases, is OK. That life goes on, that you move on, that in many ways, it doesn’t matter, because what’s important hasn’t changed. Blows yer mind, it does.

Comment by Lene 11.03.07 @ 4:49 pm

Yes. Oh, yes.

Comment by AlisonH 11.03.07 @ 9:36 pm

This touched me so much.

Comment by Tracy 12.18.07 @ 12:27 am

[…] a cane for my balance.  (I don’t think she’d noticed it against the wall)  because of that car accident way back […]

Pingback by SpinDyeKnit 02.20.09 @ 6:49 pm

[…] like, when did your hair go so gray? Where are all your little kids?  How did you get so old?  Where on earth did that cane come […]

Pingback by SpinDyeKnit 03.28.10 @ 11:42 pm

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