This time of year, it’s pretty much uniformly dark when I head out the door to walk to work.
It’s around 6:30, and this time of year, often wet, windy and sleety.
Sometimes I win, and the wind changes while I’m at work and is at my back in both walking directions. Sometimes — more often, it seems to me — I lose, and I hunch my face down into my collar, chin hidden, cold water spattering my cheeks.
And sometimes, it’s pure misery: driving rain, cars carving their way into the inside lane specifically to throw puddles over me, water finding its way into the fine gaps that every piece of rain gear seems to have somewhere — you know, the ones that announce themselves with an icy-cold rivulet where no rivulet should properly be.
Still, I enjoy it tremendously, most times of the year; it’s my non-electronic, scattered thinking time. The phone stays in my pocket, and my mind wanders. I think the separation from our now-near-constant connectedness is every bit as good for me as the walking is.
Last week, on Wednesday morning (I remember it well), I was putting on my rain gear for yet another day of what the weather office hopefully calls “a 40 per cent chance of showers,” except there was a 100 per cent chance of it happening exactly then. Right leg and foot dove down their assigned rain pants-leg exactly right; left foot, however, hung up a bit at the very top and stopped, and I did a tilting, awkward pirouette. When I did, I felt or heard (they sort of mix) a soft, gristly “pop” that I am all too familiar with. My lower back, once again demonstrating its ability to move in a way it’s not designed for.
The phone stays in my pocket, and my mind wanders.
It doesn’t hurt at first. You get to have enough time first to think, “Oh no. I didn’t…” And then it is abundantly clear that you have.
It happens two or three times a year despite my best behaviour and planning. I do something as simple as putting a new garbage bag in the kitchen garbage (yes, exactly that happened once) and I’m looking forward to anything from a week to three weeks’ worth of pain and lack of mobility.
Sometimes, it lets me sleep; other times, something as simple as a moving foot against the sheets starts a cascade of back spasms.
I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but I recommend it to everyone.
Let me explain that.
Sometimes, it’s so bad that I can’t get either leg high enough to pull on a sock. Sometimes, I’m so afraid of the pain I’ll feel standing up that I tense up completely and make a bad situation far worse. Often, I mope and sulk and am a complete misery for everyone around me.
And there are times when I wander the house endlessly, as if it’s a footrace and I can somehow stay ahead of the pain.
But eventually, bit by bit, it gets better, and my first pain-free walk, even in sleet, has a grateful spring to its step. The purgatory of a week or so of pain offers up a small rebirth.
And every time, it reminds me, to my chagrin, that there are people who suffer from that kind of pain — and much worse — on a regular, even daily, basis. There are plenty for whom the mobility most of us take for granted is an impossible dream. People who are all around us, suffering through things we can’t or don’t even imagine.
It reminds me to be grateful for something that I would take completely for granted otherwise.
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Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @wangersky.