I came in from my daily walk with my dog Rusty, moving like Chester from Gunsmoke. My husband saw me hobble into our living room. He asked what was the matter? I told him the back of my thigh hurt like crazy. Like someone was jabbing me with a knife each time I took a step. Being a football and basketball coach for over twenty years, he told me I’d pulled a hamstring. “Have you ever had a hamstring injury?” I asked. “No,” he replied, “glad I never have. They hurt like hell.” Comforting.
I’d spent the day before wrestling with thistle and dandelion in our backyard, clearly enjoying each and every time I managed to decimate one. What I didn’t pay attention to was I had been bending over for at least an hour, moving from dandelion to thistle and repeating, pulling my hamstrings tight like the back of a slingshot.
After a couple days of icing, I couldn’t ignore Rusty’s brown eyes begging to smell the world just outside our door. Conundrum. How to walk him and manage with my painful hamstring? Then, I remembered we had a cane downstairs we’d kept since my husband used it after knee surgery. I wasn’t thrilled about walking with one, it was clearly a symbol for “old.” (Forget the fact that injured athletes had to, but then again, they didn’t have graying hair). Out the door Rusty and I went. I hobbled along with the cane in my right hand. We were moving very slowly, creeping along past neighbors’ houses and watching cars drive by. I became embarrassed, bordering on shame. What are they thinking? That I’m old? Maybe useless now. I hoped they would remember it wasn’t the usual me. Remember I don’t limp and I don’t need a cane.
My father died at the age of ninety-nine and two years before he went into a nursing home, his balance was compromised, his gait unsteady. He’d fallen at home more than once, luckily uninjured. A farmer for most of those years, he was used to being strong and agile. We reminded him over and over to use a cane. Doctor’s orders. “No way am I going to be seen using one.” He refused. We girls became more and more frustrated to the point of anger. What was the big deal? We agreed he had too much pride.
Walking Rusty as often as I could, using the sturdy blue cane with its rubber tip, I realized how vulnerable he must have felt, how difficult it was to lose his agility and strength, sad to know life’s sunset was more vivid. I said, with no one to hear but Rusty, “I get it now, Dad. I had no idea how hard it is to feel old, useless, in need of help. I’m sorry.” I hope he heard me.