Blessed are the sick and the injured, for they understand fragility and interdependence.
Blessed are the doubters, for they know what it means to be human.
Blessed are the clumsy and the insecure, for they shall grow wise.
Part 1: Healing Comes From Heat
I hurt my shoulder. One wrong turn on a pair of skis, and I fell face-first into a new set of lessons. Lesson One: when the arm journeys from its home, the muscles get so angry you’ll want to vomit. Because of my nausea, there was concern that I had a concussion, but no. Unfortunately, I still remembered the year and the current president. “Don’t make me say his name,” I said to the ambulance worker. “I’m in enough pain.”
She laughed. “We get that response from 95% of the people we pick up.”
The other worker added, “And the other 5% have concussions.”
Lesson Two: Ice slows the anger in the blood. When the IV won’t go in the vein, when the shot of fentanyl wears off, ice still works. It’s best to stay elemental.
I’m OK! I wasn’t sure I would be, but after a month of taking care and learning more lessons, I am OK. Please note Lesson Three, which not everyone knows: healing comes from heat, not ice. Ice soothes in the first angry moments, but after 48 hours, rely on heat. Heat stirs the blood, and only blood can heal. Lesson Four: despite torn cartilage, a chipped bone, and two dozen angry shoulder muscles, my arm can still move enough to type these words.
The Buddhists speak of interdependence, how we are all intimately connected. Americans like to forget this – all we need is Amazon, which will soon be run by robots. Yet I come to Lesson Five: humans live in groups for a reason. With one arm in a sling, I could not open a jar or remove a bra. I couldn’t floss my teeth or separate a cracked egg. If I didn’t have a Man to feed me and friends to drive me, I might still be lying in the snow, trying not to barf.
Lesson Six: Love is pressure. Love is the pressure on a Man to help his vulnerable, one-armed lover. Love is also the pressure of fingers sinking into an angry muscle. I practiced self-massage techniques on these muscles, stimulating my blood to flow, bringing the life back. Sometimes leaning into a tennis ball on a wall is the most loving thing you can do. “You heal fast,” said my acupuncturist. It’s because of Lesson Seven: Injury forced me to love myself.
Part 2: No Looking Back
Convalescence is a good time to sit and listen to the old stories. The Man who feeds me took me to New York City, the city from the movies – bustling Broadway with all the lights and the truckloads of tourists.
We hopped off our truck and walked inside. They were showing a Greek play, a tragedy. As Hermes, the man in the sharkskin suit told us: it’s a sad story. And it was. We knew it would be. The Man who feeds me, now my Handsome Date, he would not cry at the end, because he knew what was coming – the sadness of a song sung for thousands of years.
The good storytellers shifted some details. This time, Eurydice, the tale’s Princess Bride, went underground not from a fatal snakebite, but to escape the hunger and cold of endless winter. She left her Lover-Hero, Musician Orpheus, who, in his obsession to write a hit song to make spring return, lost track of the vittles and the firewood. Lesson Eight: Art is only good on a full stomach.
So Eurydice ventured down, down beneath the ground, to the man with the slick white hair and the watch chain – Hades, the Underworld Lord. There, Eurydice had food. She also had life of unending labor disguised as freedom, for the Lord had his subjects shaping the material of the deep earth into a wall. The tourists gasped; this version of the story was written years before the current Lord of the Underworld spoke of building his wall. Yet the good storytellers know that all these Lords are the same.
Lover-Heroes are also the same: when Orpheus snapped to, he journeyed beneath the earth to rescue his Princess Bride. He charmed the Lord with song, and the Lord let them go. But there was a catch: the Lover-Hero was to walk ahead of his Princess Bride and not look back. Lesson Nine: in so many stories, there is no looking back.
Up they went. Though his Bride followed behind, grateful and dutiful, Orpheus began to doubt.
Love is pressure.
The Musician didn’t doubt his Bride, but himself: “I’m not good enough for her.” To soothe himself, he sang his song – la, la la la la la la .
And again, doubt. “I’m penniless. Why would she want me?”
Back to the song – la, la la la la la la – like a yoga mantra. But Orpheus needed more practice with his mantra, for his doubt returned.
And then the song.
Finally, upon the threshold of home – doubt. The Lover-Hero looked back.
There she was, his Bride. And then, she wasn’t. Slowly she sank back into the Underworld. As the smoke rose and the platform lowered her down under the stage, the truckloads of tourists and I cried. Don’t ask why, said Hermes in his sharkskin – why, when he was so close. It’s an old story, a sad story.
Lesson Ten: Doubt will take away all you have.
I cried for the Musician and his Bride, but I wanted to cry for my own doubt. I wanted to cry for the years of allowing Doubt and her evil sister Mistrust steal from me. Opportunities lost, dreams deflated, friends abandoned, lovers spurned – all of it sunk down from the stage of my life. Because I, too, doubted myself. Not lovable. Not good enough.
Even now, after years of chanting soothing yoga mantras, I continue to doubt myself. Would I ski again? Or was I too clumsy? Could I really trust the love of the Man who feeds me, my Handsome Date, my own Lover-Hero who gave me sparkling rocks on a ring? Or would he soon discover that I am unlovable?
Now the two of us stood outside the theater among the truckloads of tourists. I wanted to talk about the play, but my Handsome Date joked, “No looking back.” He wanted to walk forward through the streets, but tourists jammed the sidewalks. Cars filled the streets in all directions. Handsome Date and I wound through the crowd and stood under the giant-sky screens that flashed with the urgency of the world’s end. They were too bright to reveal the ripe full moon, though I could feel its bewitching pull.
I needed inside quiet. I needed more crying, years of crying. The story made my heart so wet and red and heavy that my feet just stopped moving. Handsome Date wanted to take me underground to catch the train, but I refused. “So what do you want to do?” he asked.
Love is pressure.
I wanted to be taxied away in a closed space in a yellow chariot. But to find a chariot? Handsome Date and I couldn’t agree on the best spot; all were crowded with tourists. We trudged one way and then the other. We argued. Handsome Date still wanted to go underground.
Red in the heart, I pulled away from him and shouted. Doubt expressing herself: “Fuck this.”
I could see the taxis coming. I turned to face them, alone.
But I couldn’t raise my arm, not the one facing traffic. To raise an arm! When you can do it, it’s nothing. And when you can’t?
I emitted a noise that was both a growl and a scream. In the crowd, it went unheard. I stalked back to my Handsome Date. “I need you,” I said. Healing comes from heat.
My Lover-Hero came to stand with me. He lifted his arm and suddenly we had a chariot.
Back in our room, I dissolved into tears. I cried for a lifetime of doubt. I cried for the musicians who never gave themselves a chance. I cried for lost love: mine, yours, everyone’s. I remembered the time I removed my ring with the sparkling rocks, the one my Lover-Hero had saved to buy, and I cried harder.
Now, with my limp arm propped on a pillow, I fingered the ring. My Lover-Hero sat away from me, eyeing me nervously. I continued to sniffle. “Was the show OK?” he asked, the one who had wanted the tickets.
Love is pressure.
Lesson Eleven: Whoever doesn’t doubt, doesn’t exist. I smiled at my Lover-Hero’s doubt, at thousands of years of human doubt. Greeks in their theaters, truckloads of tourists, musicians and lovers and broken-down skiers. All of us doubting together.
I pressed into my shoulder. My fingers sunk into the softness at the top of the blade, urging the healing blood to flow. First I would marry my Lover-Hero. Then I would go back up the hill.
“Oh yes,” I said.