I’ve noticed lately that a lot of people are limping. Kim is limping because of her injured knee, plus some not-yet-diagnosed damage to both knees. Barbara was limping when we met her, probably the result of an athletic injury to her ankle. Sheryl is limping because of slow and uncertain recovery from knee replacement. Rick limps because he needs knee surgery, and will be limping for the post-surgical drive from California to Michigan. (Does a car limp when the driver does?) Peter is limping because of serious surgery for a foot injury, and though I have not seen him limp, he says it will probably continue for a while. Alice may still be limping after her knee replacement. Our friend Marshall is limping following a couple of falls on the ice. And Jerry is limping from multiple back and hip problems, works hard to get around, but he does. Tiger Woods? That’s a lot of limping – and we don’t know all that many people.
All of this, surprisingly, I find to be heartening. Yes, we are getting older, and limping is part of that scenario. But what is limping? It’s pushing ahead despite the injury, the illness, the pain, the inconvenience, the disability. There are admirable human qualities involved in limping – determination, to be sure, but also stubborn courage, and perhaps a kind of devotion as you work to complete the tasks to which you are committed. (I’m picturing here Kim’s limping up the stairs from her art room to fix my dinner.)
Some of you limpers may object to the word “heartening,” and I don’t blame you. I am not now limping (though bone spurs and a torn hamstring), so it’s easier for me than for a limper. I don’t fully remember how hard it was being a limper. As Peter reports, “Until one is, it's impossible to understand the challenges the physically challenged face every day...even walking on sidewalks that look, but are not, hazard-free.” Watching other people handle their pain can be heartening, but perhaps it’s not so heartening for the person who is suffering.
All of the above only relates to limping as we walk, but there are other limps we are prone to. Consider limping as we think. Can’t remember the name of your good friend? What movie you saw last night? What you were going to do when you got to your desk? Who you were supposed to telephone today? Where you put your to-do list? All of this halting and uneven thinking is a form of limping, and yet we soldier on the best we can. And good for us!
And some of us, mainly men I suppose, are limping emotionally. I don’t mean limping because our feelings were hurt because our parents didn’t hug us when we were kids, or that our uncle hugged us in the wrong way, so we are emotionally scarred. A lot of men and women are limping through their challenging emotional lives with determination and resolve, much the way people with injured ankles limp over rough terrain.
But there’s also a different (though perhaps related) kind of limping: While some people are very good at striding right ahead telling exactly how they feel and why, others (most men) get a dazed look when asked how they feel about this or that. Thus, the word “fine,” when used by a man in response to a question about our feelings, usually means, “I don’t understand the question.” We limp along, at best, encouraged by our partners to say how we really feel about X or Y, not just what we think is the “right” answer. Being asked to explain our real feelings, face to face, is like being asked to suddenly speak German. It’s a foreign language. And no, this is not very heartening to behold, but some of us are trying to limp ahead emotionally as well as others do on foot.
There are those, of course, who use limping to their advantage. It can be a way to ask for help, or to be excused from your duties. Kim says she had an aunt who did this, but I don’t know anyone who uses limping as a self-serving strategy. Kim is actually the opposite of this: When she should be asking for help because of her injured knee and her multiple surgeries, combined with whatever else is troubling her joints, she refuses most of my offers, insisting that she does not want to be a quitter. Anyone who knows Kim . . ..