A few minutes before the stroke of midnight Friday, as everyone was gearing up to celebrate the arrival of the new year, a friend watched me balance on my cane and said he hoped my 2011 was better than 2010. He wasn’t the first to point out the “bad luck” I had in 2010 – namely, breaking my ankle in mid-October while walking my dogs.
Believe me when I say that the last 10 weeks of 2010 were indeed difficult, with ORIF surgery, five weeks in bed, crutches and a mountain of pain. Even so, I have a very hard time thinking of this situation as bad luck. In fact, for a couple of reasons, I find it difficult to write about my experiences during the last 10 weeks.
What I have experienced pales in comparison to the suffering that goes on in the world. Yes, I broke my ankle, and it caused me to change the way I live, no doubt…but I also received first-class medical care, with health insurance covering most of the costs. I don’t feel I can accomplish anything worthwhile by telling people about how much it hurts, or about the procedure I had done, because in the bigger scheme of things, it’s not really relevant.
I am also a bit disappointed in myself, as I thought I would gain incredible practice opportunities because I was confined to bed for so long. I had expectations of studying everyday, and meditating and writing…but I quickly discovered the narcotics made it impossible to do anything except watch television and sleep.
So why don’t I think of the last 10 weeks of 2010 as bad luck?
From the time of my accident until the middle of November, I couldn’t see my leg or ankle because I wore a plaster splint that kept my ankle immobilized. A couple days after the splint came off, I was lying in bed when I looked down and realized, for the first time, the extent of the muscle atrophy in my leg. My calf and thigh muscles had turned to jelly, and my hip had already lost about a third of its mass.
For three days, I let thoughts about the muscle atrophy fester in my mind. At that point, I was still six weeks away from being able to put weight on my ankle, and my imagination ran wild about the long-term consequences. My mind kept churning, and ego quickly took control.
And then, a few days after Veterans Day, I stumbled across a photo essay on the Washington Post’s Web site about a U.S. Marine who lost his arms and legs in Afghanistan. This Marine corporal was receiving care at DC’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center, learning to use his new prosthetic arms and legs. “All you can do is be thankful you’re alive,” he said, “which I am.”
I felt like I had been hit in the chest with a bag of bricks — the realization was that quick and that jolting. It was strong enough to immediately break what had become a chokehold of ego.
I hesitate to post a link to the photo essay, because nothing I do in my life will ever come close to the sacrifice that this man has made (I’m not using his name because I don’t want it to come up in search engine postings), and frankly, I feel ashamed that I let ego take my mind to the place where I felt sorry for myself over something as relatively minor as a broken ankle. But I am also grateful for this Marine’s willingness to share his story with the Washington Post. The photo essay is here, along with the accompanying story.
Since reading about a young soldier’s gratitude for simply being alive, I have lived my own life a little differently. I know that 2011 could be a tough year as I start physical therapy and face the possibility of a second surgery on my ankle. But I welcome the challenges as opportunities to learn about myself and my own perceived limits.
I don’t consider 2010 to be a year of bad luck. It was a year of unexpected opportunity. I hope to use what I learned in 2010 to further my practice.
May all beings everywhere plagued by sufferings of body and mind
Obtain an ocean of happiness and joy by virtue of my merits…
For as long as space remains, for as long as sentient beings remain,
Until then may I too remain to dispel the miseries of the world.
Bodhicaryavatara X, 2 and 55