Friday, September 7, 2012

A Deliberate Life, Living with an Amputee

     I am a fast walker.  I always have been.  When I was in college I figured that I averaged about four miles per hour when I would walk to my classes, and I would always get frustrated when the sidewalks were too thick with students for me to easily slip through and around them as I zipped along to the Fine Arts building or the Library.  Later, when I had kids and felt that it was better for them to be out walking rather than sitting in luxury in the back seat of the car, I would become impatient with the limitations of their short legs.  So I thought I might have some serious issues when I married a woman with a prosthetic leg.  But while in the past, the things that have slowed me down have been an irritation, now living with an amputee has forced me to slow down in a way I am entirely at peace with.  It is not that I just walk more slowly now:  Everything in my life has slowed in a way.
     Now it would not to be fair to say that I never stopped to smell the proverbial roses before, I just didn't see the need to saunter and smell, when I could get a sufficient whiff as I flew on by.  I did also enjoy frequent quiet moments of solitude and meditation, but much of my life would have been categorized as in-between-time; that time that isn't as important as the events that bracket it, and should be reduced to a minimum whenever possible.
     Walking through life with Jill has slowed me down.  Not just in the fact that it takes five or six times as long to get from the car door into work, but in that every act is now more thought out and deliberate. Walking with an amputee is an eye-opening experience, especially with Jill, as walking was never all that easy for her, even before her amputation.  I find myself becoming hyper-aware of my surroundings.  Every tiny bump in the lawn or crack in the pavement becomes a minor obstacle to navigate, and each slope must be approached with care.  I am constantly aware of my balance, knowing that at any second I might need to lend a steady arm.
     Now this is not all because I am over protective of my wife (though if you twist my arm, I would probably admit that I am a bit), but it is more because the relationship my wife and I share links us in such a way that this awareness is a natural outgrowth.
     But here is the crux of the matter:  Living with an amputee has helped me to reevaluate life, and what it means to live a Good Life.  And this is a Good Life:  A deliberate life, a life of mindful living.  When you think about each step you take, about whether your surroundings are or are not conducive to your or your wife's abilities, it becomes a natural extension to think more deeply about every aspect of your life.  Each action becomes both important and rewarding.  When a simple action like making the bed or putting on your shoes becomes deliberate and satisfying, fewer actions are needed to make your life wonderful.  In the Tao Te Ching there is a beautiful passage describing this:  "A truly good man does nothing, / Yet leaves nothing undone. / A foolish man is always doing, / Yet much remains to be done."
     Jill has reminded me, without intending to of course, of a time when I did act more deliberately.  I recall when I was working on my MFA.  I would arrive at my studio at about 4:00 AM, and in the quiet darkness, illuminated by one light over my work desk, I would carefully lay out my engraving tools, and then spend ten to fifteen minutes slowly sharpening and polishing my burins and scraper before I would turn to my copper plate and begin engraving.  Or when I worked at a small kitchen, again, early in the morning.  I would spend time in the dark moonlit garden picking the herbs that would go into the bread I would knead and bake.  And though in those days I slept considerably less than I do now, I felt revived and refreshed, because I had spent that time deliberately and mindfully.
     Now, living with animals on our tiny homestead has added to the joy of living deliberately, and increased the ease of doing so.  Carefully wiping off the eggs each day, filling the food and water bins, carrying the waste bin out to the compost pile, and dozens of other little tasks are no longer onerous burdens, but wonderful moments when I can reconnect to the sense of life, nature, and who I truly am.  Perhaps I am just more mature now, and able to see these moments of deliberate life more clearly, but I think that in reality it has been thrown into focus because of my life with Jill, and (if you will allow me to wax emotional) that is a debt I will forever owe her, and do so happily.
     So take advantage of every chance to move slowly; to be aware of everything around you and your place in it.  Don't let your brain coast on auto-pilot when you are washing the dishes or cleaning out the cat litter, and even the most mundane tasks may become pleasurable to you.


  1. That is a beautiful and clear picture of your life now. One we can all learn a great message from. Love you both Aunt JUNE

  2. Absolutely beautiful. I like what you wrote. What a blessing you are to each other.


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