It was the Friday before Memorial Day, that gateway to the good times of summer, and I was anticipating the weeks ahead. Sunny days for hiking, bicycling, kayaking, diving into household and outdoor projects, and just plain getting out and doing things without having to negotiate snow and ice.
My mind was so occupied with such leisurely thoughts, I hardly noticed the ache across the top of my foot that morning. Around the time I was ready to leave for that afternoon's trek with the Wander Women, the ache asserted itself more aggressively, and I considered skipping the hike. But it was such an ideal hiking day—blue-skyed, cloud-fluffed, warm but not hot—I couldn't resist. And anyway, my foot felt much better in my hiking shoe.
Until about three miles into the hike. Then it really started to hurt. I limped the last mile and a half, drove home, iced the foot and brushed aside Ray's suggestion to visit Urgent Care. It didn't hurt that much. Not enough to interfere with our weekend plans.
After hobbling through the weekend and holiday, I finally admitted the foot wasn't getting any better. An x-ray revealed the reason: a fracture of the third metatarsal. I was fitted with a clunky walker boot, given a referral to an orthopedic surgeon and sent home to contemplate this turn of events.
Clearly, summer would not be quite as I'd envisioned. I didn't waste time moping, though. No siree, I sat down and made a list of things I still could do: writing, reading those piles of accumulated books and magazines, answering email, calling friends, making phone calls and writing letters in support of causes, creating collages, meditating, planning our fall vacation, organizing and editing photos, even shooting new photos of critters from the back porch.
Good for me! Lemonade from lemons and all that, right?
Yeah, about that . . .
A few days after making that upbeat list, I got restless and pulled out the list for inspiration. All those housebound activities didn't seem nearly as appealing as when I'd written them down—especially when another sunny day taunted me just outside the windows. Plus, I'd realized that the list of things I still could do also included things I'd just as soon not: paying bills, cleaning out files, and performing a surprising number of household and chores. B-o-r-i-n-g.
Then I moped. But moping got boring pretty quickly, too, so I figured it was time to give myself a pep talk on adaptability and making the best of a disappointing situation. Fortunately, My Self is something of an authority on the subject, having had ample experience with subverted summers: three previous foot fractures and a spinal fracture over the past 24 years, each one occurring sometime between Memorial Day and mid-July.
I'd even written a magazine article about the summer I broke my back—the summer we'd planned a month-long motorcycle trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as weekends of Rollerblading and bicycling in the park. The summer with a few definite plans and plenty of room for following whims.
As I wrote in the article:
When I thought about happenstance, of course, I was envisioning the merry kind that brings opportunities and delights. But when serendipity stepped in and made choices for me, it knocked me flat . . . What I didn't realize was that fate, in fact, had intervened to give me the break I had longed for—not exactly the way I had imagined it, but a break all the same. With my choices suddenly so limited, life had to get simpler. Time had to slow down.
Then, as now, I occupied myself catching up on articles I'd clipped and saved to read when I found the time. One, on the unlikely topic of the benefits of poor health, made the point that having to step off the treadmill of everyday life and let things go on without your participation can be a chance to reflect and make needed changes.
That I did. I reflected on the work I was doing and how I'd like it to be different—a train of thought that led to a new, more creative way of working. I also used the time to experiment with various kinds of writing and explore visual arts in ways I'd not had time—or nerve—to try before. In the process, I learned to care more about satisfaction than accomplishment, to let interests drive me more than ambition—lessons that set the stage for the kind of life I'm living now (or trying to).
Back then, I was stepping away from a hectic, deadline-driven life. This time, the treadmill I'm stepping off moves at a significantly slower rate. Still, the shift in activities and expectations should offer a chance to reflect and consider new directions. I wonder what I'll discover this time and where those discoveries will lead.
Meanwhile, my change of summer plans also means changes of plans for HeartWood. I had envisioned gathering blog material in trips to festivals, friends' gardens, local labyrinths and other points of interest. Some of that still may happen, but for a while at least, I won't be venturing out as much as I'd imagined I would.
That's where you come in. I hereby deputize all HeartWood readers to be official correspondents. If, in your summer ramblings, you have experiences you'd like to share in words, pictures or both, I'll be happy to give you space to do that here at HeartWood. Just get in touch and we'll work out the details. I hope you'll take me up on the offer!
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.