For the last six weeks I have danced with an illness that has required me to pull back from boxing, social activities and even walking. I have walked only 10 to 12 kilometres once each when I planned to be walking significantly more by now. Sometimes even this was too far and I had to pull back into rest and stillness. It felt like one step forward, one step back.
Then on Sunday, in one single moment, every thing changed. Unexpectedly, I took a giant step back into a stepless place.
I just finished writing my newsletter, put my computer aside then stood to walk upstairs to fetch my sheets to launder when disaster stuck. The toes of my sleepy left foot curled under and the full weight of my body came down hard on the top of my foot that was touching the ground where the sole should have been. Pain roared instantly and I knew that my foot was badly injured — that it could even be broken.
Standing on my right leg only, I pulled off my ugg boot, looked at my left foot and gasped in horror. On top of my foot was a huge, dark lump, the size of a small chicken egg getting larger by the second. I needed to ice it and elevate it immediately.
I managed to hop to the freezer to grab an ice pack, hop to the bench to grab the phone then hop over to the couch and raise my foot up above my heart. Then the shock kicked in. I phoned friends for help, sobbing that I’d done something really bad to my foot, rang the after hours medical clinic for an appointment so I could avoid spending hours waiting in emergency at a hospital, then lay on the couch shivering from the shock as I waited for my friend Tracy to arrive.
As I waited, I wondered how this would impact my pilgrimage: would it be better if it were broken or just soft tissue damage i.e. which would heal more quickly? Will it heal in time to walk in September? What if it doesn’t heal in time? How would I feel if I had to postpone the pilgrimage?
I noticed these thoughts arise but they weren't fearful and I felt calm. Something deep within me told me that I don’t need to worry. I will be walking in September.
As both the shock and the massive blood-filled lump subsided after I had ice on it for 20 minutes, I started to laugh at the irony of my situation. I am a pilgrim who can't walk. Of course, I would sprain my foot when I was planning to walk 4,000 kilometres and at a time when I felt I hadn’t been training enough. It seems the universe has given me a very obvious sign to rest and focus on my inner preparation right now.
At the medical clinic, I was able to take three feeble steps on my foot so the doctor suspected that my foot wasn’t broken. Athough I wasn’t 100% convinced given the pain, I knew time would tell. She placed a compression bandage on my foot and sent me away to rest, elevate and ice it for the next two days.
Two days later, the pain and swelling has subsided significantly and I can even put some weight on my toes when I need to. The human body is a living miracle – just look how it heals itself. It is incredible.
There’s so much that we take for granted until it’s gone including our health and our ability to walk.
Growing up, I watched my mum robbed of her ability to walk by the muscular dystrophy that ravaged her body. It was something we could all do, just not my mum.
Then several years ago, a colleague asked me to join the work team walking 50 kilometres in a day to raise money for charity. I declined. My exact response was, “Oh no! I’m so not interested in walking that far ever.” Back then, I was heavily into boxing and kickboxing training. I thought walking was too easy — and too boring. Then through a chain of life events, I discovered how necessary walking was to keep my spirit alive. I came to love walking.
I found the Via Francigena and learned that walking can challenge you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It was as simple as step after step yet it was so much more than just steps alone.
Despite all these lessons, I have still taken walking for granted. Walking is commonplace, something most of us do everyday without thinking about it. Now I’m limited to hobbling around on crutches, I can see how arrogant I have been and just how much I had undervalued this ability.
National Geographic journalist, Paul Salopek, describes walking like this:
“Walking is falling forward. Each step we take is an arrested plunge, a collapse averted, a disaster braked. In this way, to walk becomes an act of faith. We perform it daily: a two-beat miracle—an iambic teetering, a holding on and letting go.”
What a profound and beautiful way to view walking — as an act of faith, as a miracle. These are words I want to hold in my heart every time I take a step from now on.
Life is more difficult without the ability to walk – try grocery shopping, walking upstairs, carrying anything. Without being able to move freely we become more vulnerable and reliant on others for help. But when something is taken away, you are also given a gift in return. In my case, it is an opening, an opportunity for deeper connection with others and with myself.
I am not moping on the couch feeling sorry for myself. I am not fearful that my pilgrimage is in jeopardy. Instead, I am savouring the stillness, the rest and the going inward that this time allows.
I have faith that I will be walking in September. I have 22 weeks to heal and even if there's limited time to train before I go, as I learned from walking Via Francigena, the actual pilgrimage walking will be the real training.
Even if for some reason it turns out that I cannot walk or I simply cannot go, I don’t need to fret or worry. I have a back-catalogue of life experience that has shown me that things always turn out okay, often better than okay, in ways I could never imagine.
With love and courage,
PS So I don’t leave you with images of my injured foot, here’s a few photos from places where I have walked lately.
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