Since I was a young girl, I have always had a love/hate relationship with my body. It has never been what I wanted it to be. I came into my curves early and when all my friends were shopping the junior department for size 3 or 5, I was in the women’s department looking for 6 or 8. I deemed myself fat long before I ever was. I wanted blonde hair not brunette. I wanted curls not straight. I wanted to be athletic but my lack of hand eye coordination prevented it. I was the outfielder trying to find 4 leaf clover and praying the ball would never come to me. I was the tennis player who hit the ball over the fence every time as if it was supposed to be a home run. I wasn’t good at any team sport, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. I was always trying to fit into some mold or another without much success.
I was a swimmer, a horseback rider, a snow skier, a river rafter, and a hiker. I never saw any of those things as athletic. Just goes to show you how deceptive our self-perceptions can be. To my mind, athletes were on teams where you win something. Walking through the woods didn’t fit that definition. None of my ‘sports’ did. Go at your own pace, stop when you want, walk when you want, fly with the wind when you want. Nobody wins in these sports of mine, so are they really sports? I didn’t think so. Seemed like nothing special to me, except for the fact these activities brought me life.
They say wisdom comes with age, and I think it must be true because as I age I have seen how silly my battle with myself has become. Why fight with myself? Seriously, what good does it do? My essence, who I am inside, has a body to ride around in. I have come to see what a privilege that is. My body gets me where I need to go. It allows me to communicate. My legs can take me into the woods. My eyes can see the beauty that surrounds me. My hands can feel the textures of life. My mind can comprehend deep things.
Cancer taught me how truly valuable my body is. A gift. I thought it might not ever go to a waterfall again. Or see the light of foxfire glowing on the forest floor. I wasn’t sure it would ever be able to really taste again, or finish my sentences with the words I wanted to say. Sometimes it takes almost losing something to really appreciate it. Living fully…every single day is so very important.
Then, the cartilage-eating chemo left its mark on my already genetically-weakened joints. A double whammy. My first knee replacement, 10 years ago, gave me new perspective on working out. I found it is not a chore, but another privilege I had taken for granted. Boots, crutches, walkers and wheelchairs have a way of getting your attention. Walking is important. Mobility is everything. And if I can increase my chances of keeping my mobility by working my muscles, I will do it. Like it or not. I will move my body every day to keep it going.
I have always had a heart for those who are unable to get around smoothly. My grandfather had his knee removed when he was just a kid in the early 1900s. There were no knee replacements then. He walked with one stiff leg his whole life. He had a special built up shoe since one leg was shorter than the other. He had little stools beside his chairs to prop his foot on since his leg couldn’t bend when he sat down. I have a few of those stools now. A part of him, but also a reminder to me. I used them for my PT exercises after my most recent knee surgery in June. Stepping up on them and then down. Working my new knee with compassion for those who cannot do the same. I am so grateful for this opportunity that I have to go and to do.
Yesterday, I got back out into the woods for the first time since my surgery. On an uneven, unpaved trail. I challenged myself to make it all the way around the lake at Unicoi…my go-to trail. A little up, a little down, but mostly flat for 2.5 miles. I knew I would have to take it slow. Make some stops. Do some stretches. Give my new knee some grace to find its footing. So, I allowed myself plenty of time. It took me an hour, which I thought was pretty good for only 3 months out from having my knee cut out. I only had to make two stops to stretch and coax my leg to keep going…speaking gently to it and thanking it for trying to get me back out among the trees where I belong.
The light was that beautiful golden light of fall that I love. The temperature was a comfortable 72 degrees. The breeze was singing over me as I made my way around the shimmering water. I was surprised there were not too many others out on such a lovely day. There were certainly an abundance of early leaf-lookers on the roads, but not so on the trail. I was quite happy to have it all to myself.
I breathed in the fall air deep. Thanking my lungs for the breath. I urged my heart to keep pumping, since it hasn’t had many strenuous work outs in months because of my limited mobility. I made my way along the path as a few leaves threw themselves down to see me, like celebratory confetti. They floated onto my path. My own red-carpet moment. Through the trees the water was shimmering silver with a golden hue. The sun and water dancing together to celebrate the new season’s arrival. The fishing bridge was vacant, so the water was clear to the bottom, small fish circling at their good fortune of an afternoon without hooks. The birds called to one another through the trees, playing their own afternoon autumn tune. A snake head bobbed out of a hole under my feet as I stepped over it. His tongue flicking to see if it was safe to come out. Catching a whiff of me he retreated, as I moved rather quickly to avoid him. Once again, thanking my eyes for seeing possible danger and my feet for moving me past it. The pine needles muffled my footfalls, and the quiet of the day sank into my soul. Life seeped into me with every step. I have so missed this and I am overjoyed to be back again. Once more, I have my body to thank for this lovely day.
This body I have hated, has served me well despite my mistreatment of it. Despite me taking it for granted. Despite me talking down and degrading it. Despite the fact that the scale still mocks me regularly no matter how many calories I count or bites of food I write down. I am more than this body of mine, but this body of mine is a work horse who has loved me enough to keep me going and get me to the places I love. What a gift to me that is.