In Sweet Company

“ The only way to restore harmony is to act with wisdom, integrity, stability and dignity.” — Grandmother Twylah Nitsch, IN SWEET COMPANY: CONVERSATIONS WITH EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN ABOUT LIVING A SPIRITUAL LIFE

Six weeks ago I took a flying leap in a fancy restaurant, missed a couple of stairs and came crashing to my knees on an elegant white marble floor. The whole thing took me by surprise as things like this often do. At least until I landed and my thigh felt like it fast-tracked into my eyeball. That really got my attention.

I was in the front of the restaurant walking toward a friend we were meeting for dinner, attempting to get his attention. Someone opened the glass door onto the patio in the back of the restaurant. The flare of the setting sun ricocheted off the moving glass, flitted about the ceiling like Tinkerbell, and found a resting place in my eyes. The light was so bright and pure and encompassing that — until I hit the ground — I thought I was having a spiritual experience.

Everyone came to gawk. A handsome young doctor standing at the bar saw me fly through the air. He  rushed to my aid: “Hi! I’m a doctor, a pain management specialist. It would be a verrry good idea to have the EMT’s take you for an xray of that kneecap.” Long story short, I tore my quadriceps tendon and bruised parts of my knee I never knew I had. I took my femur out of my eye and began PT.

A month into my adventure, my husband and I decided to attend a conference in LA we had long planned to go to. There was no way I could walk around the hotel under my own steam, so after a great deal of hemming and hawing and whining, I rented a wheelchair from an agency in L.A. to get me where we wanted to go.

I don’t like to be hovered or fretted over. I absolutely don’t like to be dependent on others. Or be source of concern or a burden. My first instinct was to ditch the professional conference attire and get T-shirts made that said, “I fell. I’m fine. Not to worry. It’s temporary.” The entire situation was a perfect set-up to learn grace and patience, and to see myself as whole no matter how broken I appeared. I sucked it up and got on the plane.

When we arrived at the hotel, I had to talk myself into the chair. The ante had been upped. The rental company sent a portable wheelchair that looked like a throwback to the 19th century, a big, high-back, honking model with 36” wheels. I whined a bit, then decided that if this was the way the Universe wanted to play it, I would meet the challenge head on. Wagons ho!

People were kind. People were curious. Some made jokes. Some were horrified when they caught sight of me, mostly out of concern for me, occasionally out of fear that if “this” — whatever “this” was — could happen to me, it could happen to them, too. Someone asked me if I had Parkinson’s. A lot of strangers could not look me in the eye. My friend Steve, a former jet pilot, pushed me around the hotel like I was his personal F 18.

From my perch, I observed a lot I’d never never otherwise see bustling around a busy hotel on my hind legs: Mail slots. Wallets bulging out of back pockets. And a subculture of other wheelchair- bound attendees who instantly made me one of their own. They had never seen a chair like mine before. Was it comfortable? could I maneuver it myself? had I considered an electric model? They gave me tips to make the ride smoother. Waved as we passed in the halls. I was very glad I’d decided not to get those T-shirts made. I was embarrassed I’d been annoyed at having to sit in a wheelchair for one short week of my life.

Grace and patience come when we rise to occasion — not, I discovered, in the short term, but over time when we welcome what we cannot change by changing ourselves.

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