He was one of those much-pierced-and tatt’d guys who somehow manages to look endearingly puppy-like despite the metal and ink—perhaps because of it. As I told him my tale, however, I kept alert. Years of living in New York have permanently imprinted certain rules in my brain, and one of the top five of these is never trust anyone who stops to talk to you on a sidewalk.“Oh wow!” he exclaimed, eyes wide with interest. “Hey, would it be OK if I prayed for you? I like to pray for people to heal. Could I do that for you right now?”
I could have said I was in a hurry to go someplace and crutched off as fast as my one good leg, one gimpy leg, and two metal ambulatory aids would permit. Instead I said “yeah, sure.” This wasn’t New York, after all; when in Rome, as in semi-rural Heartland, you let folks pray.He got down on one knee. I had time to wish someone were there to take a photo and post it on facebook so I could change my relationship status to “engaged to random stranger.” My pretend fiancé placed his hands over my Ace-bandaged foot; I meanwhile clutched my shoulderbag a whole lot tighter. Hey, I’ve seen magic shows. The ol’ keep ‘em distracted by praying over your foot meanwhile your wallet’s getting picked—yeah, I know that one, pal.
“Oh heavenly father I pray for healing,” he began, upon which point I sort of tuned out, the way I used to way back in those very few times I attended Mass as a child. At some point he changed things up a bit, got more comfortable with The Lord. “Oh Dad, we thank you for your mercy. Daddy, we thank you for your love.” I pictured Daddy rolling his eyes, shaking his head, waiting for the plea for a bigger allowance.Finally the prayer ended and he stood up. “Did you feel the Holy Spirit enter your foot?”
Well, no, but then the Holy Spirit’s healing calendar may be kind of full at the moment, what with, like, wars and stuff going on, so I’m not going to be too offended.“You didn’t? That’s OK! Not everyone feels it right away.”
Well, all right, then. He smiled, said his goodbyes, and went on his way. I smiled, checked my wallet, and continued on myself.Being on crutches is a bit like being pregnant, I’d imagine, only with armpit bruises instead of back pain. Your body is in this temporarily altered state, and there’s no hiding it, and for whatever reason it suddenly becomes OK for the public to focus very directly on this state. People who would never dream of staring at or talking to an amputee or a severe burn victim will openly approach a person with a cast or a sling and ask for the gory details. I don’t know how many times in the past week a stranger has looked piteously at me and exclaimed “you poor thing!” and asked if they could help, be it through prayer or a motorized shopping cart at Schnucks. (A combination of the two wouldn’t be unwelcome, come to think of it. Oh Daddy, we pray for a decent selection of organic produce and a sale on our favorite cheese. You’re the tops, Pops.)
While it certainly hasn’t been an enjoyable experience, this one-legged week has had its share of amusements, and not just from random tattoo’d puppy-eyed men praying for my foot. All this hopping around the apartment has been excellent training for playing The Floor Is Lava, for example. I can make it from the refrigerator to the sofa in less than three toe-touches. When TFIL becomes an Olympic event, I am so representing the U.S.A.Yes, I am in fact trying valiantly to put a brave, cheerful face on all this. I kind of have to, given that I did this to myself and knew what the results would be. I knew I’d miss out on running for a while, and strongly suspected I’d miss out on most outdoor activities in general. I even figured the weather would be especially lovely, and everyone I knew who wasn’t a gimp would be engaging in a last frantic burst of fun before summer unofficially ended with the final weeks of August. I’m trying, but failing. It sucks to be injured. Duh.
On the upside, I’ve got jury duty starting tomorrow. I’ll get all sorts of chances for strangers to ask me what happened, and the rest of the today to figure out a good story. I’ve already got one in mind should I be chosen for voir dire: Well, I was on my way to a meeting of the Midwestern Anarchists Association when this guy tried to steal my purse and because I believe in vigilante justice I kick-boxed his ribcage and twisted my ankle. I’ll have to find a way to work the surgical scar into that story. Maybe the would-be thief had a knife. And was riding a motorcycle. There’s got to be a motorcycle in there somewhere.Bruised, scarred, limping, grinning. That was me after my first ultramarathon. None of these will last, not even the grinning. At some point I will heal, one way or another, and return to the life I had before. It will be a relief to move freely again, a joy to run outside, but there will also be a certain heaviness that returns to my life. With limited mobility, I can’t think too far ahead; I can only focus on my next step, on avoiding any immediate pain (as well as imaginary lava). Upright, crutch-free, fully healed, I’m back to being on my own, strangers no longer interested and concerned, the steps ahead of me now shadowed with a greater uncertainty. Knowing you can move forward doesn’t necessarily mean you know where you’re going. The floor won’t be lava, but it probably won’t be a clearly marked path either.