I have a backache. It’s not a big one. It doesn’t prevent me from doing what I want to do. I play golf, work out, garden, chop wood. It’s just that I’m getting older, and it’s getting a little harder to get going in the morning or to recover from a few hours of work. Lately, though, I have been feeling a bit sorry for myself — sorry that I cannot run long distances as I once did, sorry that I cannot work longer hours without getting tired, sorry that I cannot breeze up and down stairways. Sorry, in sum, that I don’t have what I once did.
Oddly enough, I can’t remember enjoyig all those things when I was able to do them. Strength and quickness and endurance and coordination were just things I had, things, I suppose, that I thought I should have, that were somehow mine by right. I remember feeling some serious soreness after running a long distance, and I even remember bragging about it. I remember hitting a golf ball three hundred yards and relishing the praise of my golf buddies. I cannot remember ever relishing a brisk walk without pain, or the pleasant exhaustion that comes from a hard game of racquetball.
I went to the store today to buy a salad for lunch. On my way in, I saw a man in a wheelchair. He had a tube that led to his mouth. I recognized it as a device that allows a quadriplegic to maneuver his wheelchair by himself. He was younger than I, although he hair was graying. His clothing was Walmart ordinary — faded tan slacks, a weathered shirt. He was waiting for a friend who had gone in to buy groceries. I saw the two of them later, the other man carrying a bag, the man in the wheelchair talking in a strained voice. I suppose they were going home. I suppose he was living on social security disability and perhaps on some form of welfare supplement. I didn’t say hello or acknowledge him in any way. I thought about it, but I figured that he might take that as condescending, so I just kept walking from the store to my car.
I don’t know what he thought of me, if anything. He might not even have noticed me. As I walked to the car, I realized that I was walking to my car, that I wasn’t back there getting up sufficient breath to turn my wheelchair right or left, back there not walking, not ever going to walk, back there waiting for someone to change his clothes and take care of his toilet and feed him and put him in bed. He would not be playing golf or working out or running an office or even walking to the mailbox to get junk letters and throw them away. He was, as far as I could tell, just there. Just there.
We need to celebrate more. I am, at the moment, celebrating the fact that my fingers type words as I think them. I am celebrating the work I am about to do in the office this afternoon. I am celebrating the fact that I will be doing some gardening this evening, that I will fix a hamburger afterwards, that I will grab the remote and go sit in my easy chair and watch the baseball game. I think that, for the next few minutes, I will celebrate my unrestricted breathing. You should too.