Though I have never parked in a disabled parking space, I have looked longingly at the empty ones. They are always so tantalizingly convenient—right by the front door of wherever I need to go. Do places like Safeway and Home Depot really need to set aside two, four, or even six spaces, when they sit there unused? Just look at all that prime parking real estate!
Hey, I think. I’ve been circling for eons and I’m in a ginormous hurry. What a pain in the ass it will be to lug the shop-vac, crate of water, or propane tank to or from the car. Life would be so much easier if I could just park in one of those geographically desirable spots. What’s worse, thoughts like these are sometimes accompanied by a twinge of something inappropriate—jealousy? resentment? Hopefully not going-to-hell-sized bad feelings, but enough to make me feel a little ashamed.
Likewise, I’m no triathlete, but I have occasionally rolled my eyes at the slow movers of the world. The I-need-a-scooter-to-meander-through-Target types, the ten-minutes-in-the-crosswalk folks. You know. Those people.
Then, six weeks ago, I leapt off a rock and significantly altered my worldview. I felt a horrible rip and shock in midair, knowing before I landed that the next twenty-four hours would be spent lying on top of a bag of frozen peas—instead of hiking and frolicking in paradise as I had planned. So much for my trip to Wilson’s Promontory.
It was time to drag my torn calf muscle home. Stubbornly refusing a wheelchair at the airport, declining the boot from the doctor, and hiding my crutches in the hall closet, I started to wonder, what’s my problem? Weeks passed before it dawned on me: I don’t want to admit that I’m middle-aged, let alone mortal. And now that I’ve got the gait of a pirate crossed with a slug, there is visual evidence that both are true. In the frenzied ebb and flow of urban life, I am a visual thorn, causing people to stare before rushing past.
Walking into a store the other day, the greeter chirped, “How’re you doing today?” But before I could answer, he grimaced and added, “Oh, my. Want a cart to lean on?”
No, I don’t want a cart to lean on. I want a new friggin’ leg. This one sucks.
At the crosswalk, people wave for me to cross…then scowl as they realize how long it will take. At the store, on the street—everywhere I go—I’m the one making you all wait, and I can tell I’m driving you crazy.
Shoot, I’m driving myself crazy. Everything I do takes three times as long as it used to, so I’m doing less and less. Forget something upstairs/in the car/at the store? Oh, well, do without. Can’t find my phone? Make calls later. No shoes handy? Drive carpool in slippers.
I make most decisions based on how long I might have to stand or how far I will have to walk. If I need milk, I go to the market with the dairy closest to the door. If parking’s tough, I go early and circle like a hawk. And you should see the strategies I’ve adopted for unloading the dishwasher. Thank goodness I work at home, so I can ice and elevate whenever I need to. Theoretically. Sometimes the freezer just feels too far away.
After my daughter’s recent piano recital, I had to walk from the performance space to the reception. Noticing a couple behind me, I lurched to the side.
“Go ahead,” I offered. “I’m terribly slow.”
“Not to worry,” the man replied warmly. “We have issues, too.”
I saw, then, that his wife had a pronounced limp. We exchanged smiles and hobbled along together for a while—not talking, just understanding. It was a relief to know that at least these two people would not get annoyed or leave me behind.
The weeks since the injury have felt like an eternity. Despite my frustration, however, I need to keep in mind that I will start physical therapy soon, while some people may never be able to run around. I’m fortunate and I know it, and this injury has given me a lot to contemplate. What’s been my hurry, anyway? In a hundred years, will anyone care that I had to wait an extra fifteen seconds for someone to cross the street or get into their car? I won’t. I’ll be six feet under.
There. I’ve admitted it. I’m mortal.
So, if you need a little more time for whatever it is you’re doing, that’s okay by me. I have nothing but empathy for the slow folks out there these days. And don’t worry; I won’t be encroaching on any of those disabled parking spots until biology dictates I must. With any luck, I’ll be getting older and slower someday, so prepare yourself. I’ll be needing your patience and understanding.
[Photo credit to Beret Olsen]
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