Wow, it’s been a remarkably good week. After two grueling sessions of physical therapy, I can tell my leg and ankle are getting a little stronger each day.
When I think about the past five days, everything seems so bright, especially compared to the place I found myself in mid-November. Despite my best effort to maintain a positive outlook, I reached a point then where I honestly wasn’t able to picture a return to life as it was before my injury. In retrospect, those feelings seem so ridiculous and so unfounded, but I try to hold them in the back of my mind because I want them to serve as a point of reference in the years to come.
Spending some time yesterday with a friend who has been battling cancer helped put things in perspective. I hadn’t heard an update on this friend in about a month, but he told me last night that his biopsy results came back Wednesday, and he has now officially beaten a difficult and especially brutal type of cancer. While I can’t begin to compare a broken ankle to cancer, seeing the light in my friend’s eyes as he said he was cancer-free made me realize how much I’ve learned in these last couple of months.
I’ve dealt with tough circumstances in life, and I’ve tried to find the lessons that these trials uncover. Losing my parents in May 2003 helped make me strong enough to sit by my Grandma’s hospice bed a few years later and tell her goodbye. Watching alcohol, depression and disease destroy the lives of people I love has helped me be acutely aware of my own predilections and has enabled me to make sound decisions as an adult.
But there was something different this time. Being confined to bed for five weeks broke my spirit, especially after a year in which I lost more than 40 pounds through careful diet and a renewed commitment to exercise. I was attached as anyone could be to having the ability to wake up in the morning and run a couple of miles, or simply being able to dash up three flights of stairs at home to grab something before walking out the door to work. All this, despite the fact that I remind myself each day of the Four Noble Truths, and specifically that the origin of all suffering is, plain and simple, attachment.
Seeing my friend last night, and thinking about how I feel today versus those bleak days in November, I remind myself that nothing is permanent — no one is sick or broken forever. Of course, some people don’t recover, and the day will come when I am in that boat, too. But even then, an acceptance of the transient, ever-changing nature of life is of critical importance. I must learn from this experience and use it to strengthen my resolve to continue seeking freedom from grasping to the concept of self.
One of the first things I learned about Buddha’s teachings were the “three marks of existence” that are shared by all conditioned things in this world: anitya or impermanence, duhkha or suffering, and anatman or no-self. If I fully understand these concepts and incorporate that knowledge deeply into my practice, then I’ve got a real shot at making the world a better place for all beings. Snapping a bone in my leg was an unexpected but valuable lesson on this path, and I hope it continues to teach me in weeks and months to come.