March 28, 2023

Snow over the balcony.


Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

-Khalil Gibran


The day unfolds in slo-mo.  Even the large puffy snowflakes, on the other side of our glass slider, drift down as if only reluctantly heading Earthward.  They float on a path that makes a thirty degree slant with the ground, like snow in a wind-driven blizzard, only there is hardly any breeze at all.  In the background, the sassafras trees just outside my door accumulate the stuff on downy barren branches.  Waldo is going in and out through his dog-door as if to say, “Come on!  Let’s get this day going.  I’ve got sticks to herd!”  How he finds sticks under the snow, I don’t know, but he does.  Alas, puppy, that’s not going to happen on the rail-trail today.

It’s not the weather, you know.  Hell, Waldo and I have been out there in worse weather than this.  And enjoyed it.  No, it’s not the weather.  Sigh.  Over the past week, I’ve been struggling with back pain – again.

It’s not the same pain that put us off the trail for two months this summer.  This one is new.  I was pain free, then I bent over to take my boots off and, wham!  My lower back went into excruciating spasm.  I could feel the muscles bind up on the left and then the tightness spread all the way across my low back.  The pain went from zero to eight within a second.  And, although it does vary a bit, it has not gone away.  Most movement makes the cramps worse, so when I walk, it’s in short, halting steps, accompanied by grunts, groans, and expletives.  My face is all pinched up in a wince as the pain crescendos in stabbing thrusts (all the barking, howling and teeth-baring grimacing must be some subliminally generated magical incantation because it makes the pain more endurable).  But I have a dog, so not walking is not an option.  It’s either that or get down on my hands and knees and clean up the mess he can’t avoid making because we didn’t go out and walk.  Not a good option at all.

Waldo must be frustrated because I have to take baby steps as we walk, so I don’t throw my back out even worse, or, God forbid, slip on the ice and go down in a screaming wail of pain.  At my age, the rule is, never go down unless you have a plan about how you’re going to get back up and I have none right now.  I still have to bend over to pick up the cylindrical brownies Waldo leaves behind, but I’ve figured out a way that, in slo-mo, involves bending at the knees and minimizes the curvature of my low back.  Waldo, while I’m sure he doesn’t understand what’s up, is kind and doesn’t add to the danger of the perilous icy path we tread by tugging at the leash.  He just wanders at the end of his twenty-eight-foot tether, sniffing and stalking sticks.

Mornings are the worst.  You ever try to put on a pair of socks without bending your back?  Can’t be done.  The best I can do is hold my breath, grit my teeth, stick the open end of a sock over the big toe, then pull it slowly over the other toes, up the foot and then to the ankle.  It takes a while…  Dancing around on one foot while trying to stick a foot into undershorts, or a pant leg, is no treat either.  But, eventually, I get ‘er done because, after all, the dog simply has to go out.

The back is a weak point in the design of bipedal animals, you know.  It really wasn’t designed well at all.  It evolved from something created for fish that would allow them to shake their tails for propulsion.  Then some animal decided to grow legs and walk on land.  At first it, was on four legs with the back held horizontal.  Okay, not too bad – all it had to support was some muscles and guts that hung on it like clothes on a line.  But then some idiot decided to stand upright so his forepaws could evolve into hands.  Now the back has to support the entire weight of the body vertically, along its entire length.  It simply was not designed to do that well.  Add to that the fact that if you’re upright, you gotta bend over all the time to do almost anything and… well, you see the problem.

This year, for me, has been one for learning how to deal with pain.  Pain is God’s way of letting us know we’re alive.  It’s not punishment and it’s not something any of us can completely avoid.  It’s just something, like the rest of life, we have to cope with.  And it’s not the pain itself that is the difficult part.  What’s worse is how we respond to the pain.  I can overlook the disgusting aspects of picking up dog poop, or, worse, cleaning it up when it’s as runny as water and spread all over the floor, and I can overlook the discomfort of having significant pain – more or less.  It’s just something that is.  There’s no reason to perseverate about it, just get on with life, you know?  But it does slow me down.

And, damn it, it keeps us off the rail-trail.  Sigh.


Sorry, buddy. No rail-trail today.

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