MY LEFT HAND

TRUE TO FORM, WHEN I EXPERIENCED MY SHOULDER INJURY A FEW WEEKS AGO, I TRIED TO THINK OF WHAT I HAD TO GAIN FROM THE EXPERIENCE.

NOT THAT I’M A POLLYANNA, BUT I THINK, GENERALLY, THERE ARE POSITIVE LESSONS TO BE EXTRACTED FROM ALL RANGE OF EXPERIENCES – EVEN DIFFICULT ONES.

ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS I BECAME AWARE OF WAS THAT I HAD TO ASK FOR HELP.

THIS IS NOT EASY FOR MOST PEOPLE. IT CERTAINLY HASN’T BEEN FOR ME. IT SEEMS NATURAL FOR ME TO TAKE PRIDE IN MY INDEPENDENCE. AS MANY PEOPLE DO, I’VE OFTEN EQUATED ASKING FOR HELP AS A SIGN OF WEAKNESS OR CAUSE FOR SHAME.

DESPITE ENDORSING THE IDEA THAT ACCEPTING HELP FROM OTHERS ACTUALLY SERVES THEM, I’VE HAD PROBLEMS WITH THE REALITY OF BEING IN THIS POSITION. THE IDEA OF ACCEPTING HELP IS FINE — BUT NOT SO FINE FOR ME. ESPECIALLY WHEN I’M UNCERTAIN HOW LONG I WILL BE IN NEED.

THE RANGE OF THINGS I FOUND MYSELF NEEDING HELP FOR SURPRISED ME. IT WAS NOT LIKE GETTING YEARLY TAX ADVICE OR NEEDING A SINGLE RIDE TO A DESTINATION. WITHOUT THE USE OF MY RIGHT ARM AND HAND, I SEEMED TO NEED HELP FOR EVERYTHING.

THIS LED ME TO MY NEXT LESSON.

I TRIED TO PLAN THE SIMPLE TASKS OF MY LIFE. I DID NOT JUST WANT TO AVOID WASTING TIME, I WANTED TO AVOID WASTING OTHER PEOPLE’S TIME,

WHEN I HAD SOMEONE COME OVER TO WALK MY DOG, I USUALLY ASKED THEM TO HELP ME WITH SOME ARM EXERCISES OR TO OPEN A CAN, OR CHANGE A LIGHT BULB.  ACCOMPLISH TWO GOALS WITH ONE VISIT, RIGHT?

I ALSO FELT REMINDED TO CONTEMPLATE THE PHRASE DESCRIBING PEOPLE AS HUMAN BEINGS, NOT HUMAN DOINGS. WHEN I COULDN’T PERFORM MY JOB [OR, I COULD ONLY DO MY JOB IN A VERY LIMITED CAPACITY], I NEEDED TO REMEMBER NOT TO JUDGE MY WORTH BY MY PRODUCTIVITY.

I STARTED TO ACCEPT HOW CONTINUED WORK IS NEEDED IN THE AREA OF PATIENCE. AS I LOOKED AT PROSPECTS FOR REHAB, I REALIZED THAT HAVING GREATER PATIENCE IS ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT. BRINGING MY ARM BACK TO FULL FUNCTIONALITY WILL NOT BE A SHORT-LIVED VENTURE.

OPPORTUNITIES TO EXAMINE MY GROWTH HAVE BEEN IN MY FACE. MOST HAVE NOT BEEN TOTALLY UNEXPECTED, BUT I WAS SURPRISED BY A MOMENT I HAD WHEN I TRIED TO MAKE OUT THE ITEMS ON A SHOPPING LIST THE OTHER DAY.

I’M VERY RIGHT HAND DOMINANT. FORGET ABOUT SIGNING A CHECK OR CREDIT CARD SLIP WITH MY LEFT HAND.

SINCE MY INJURY, I’VE HAD TO TURN ON LIGHTS, TYPE EMAILS, BRUSH MY TEETH, AND CLEAN MYSELF AFTER GOING TO THE TOILET USING MY LEFT HAND. EVERYDAY TASKS HAVE TAKEN MUCH MORE TIME WITH THIS FORGOTTEN SIDE.

BUT NOT UNTIL I SAW MY ATTEMPTS TO WRITE A GROCERY LIST WITH MY LEFT HAND THAT I REALIZED HOW MUCH JUDGMENT I HOLD AGAINST PARTS OF ME.

I PRONOUNCED THE SCRAWLED OUT LETTERS AS INEPT, JUVENILE, USELESS — UGLY. EVEN AFTER ATTRIBUTING THE UNEVEN SCRIPT TO LACK OF EXPERIENCE WITH MY NON-DOMINANT HAND, I DIDN’T WANT TO THINK THE WORDS WRITTEN WITH BLACK INK ON THE BACK OF AN 8 ½” X 11” SHEET OF PRINTER PAPER CAME FROM ME.

I GUESS I WANT TO THINK OF MYSELF IN TERMS OF MY BEST FEATURES. I AM A GOOD WRITER AND QUICK WITH A JOKE OR OBSERVATION. I HAVE NICE LEGS….

I DON’T USUALLY WANT TO ASSOCIATE MYSELF WITH WHAT’S NOT CLEVER OR ATTRACTIVE, WITH WORDS PENNED WITH MY LEFT HAND.

BUT THESE THINGS ARE PARTS OF ME, TOO. MY LEFT HAND HAS SERVED ME, THOUGH PERHAPS NOT AS EFFICIENTLY OR AS ELEGANTLY AS MY RIGHT. THESE PAST THREE WEEKS, MY LEFT HAND HAS WASHED MY DISHES, RETRIEVED COLD-PACS FROM THE FREEZER AND TEXTED MESSAGES ON MY SMART PHONE.

MAYBE MY HANDWRITING WITH MY LEFT HAND WILL IMPROVE SOMEWHAT AS I AM FORCED TO USE IT MORE OFTEN, BUT THAT’S NOT THE MAIN TAKEAWAY. [I DON’T EXPECT CHRISTY BROWN-LIKE ACHIEVEMENTS, THE IRISH ARTIST WITH CEREBRAL PALSY WHO DEVELOPED THE ABILITY TO TYPE AND PAINT WITH HIS LEFT FOOT.]

BUT I CAN RECOGNIZE SOME OF MY DIS-OWNED PARTS AS BEING IN SERVICE OF THE WHOLE ME.

KNOWING YOURSELF TO BE WHOLE, EVEN IF A LITTLE BROKEN, AND RECOGNIZING THAT YOUR WHOLE SELF INCLUDES ASPECTS OF YOU THAT ARE NOT PREFERRED OR NORMALLY ON DISPLAY, IS NO SMALL THING.

Many Happy Returns

I don’t normally do this. When I buy something, I really do intend to put it into use.

But, the other week, I found myself looking at a couple neutral colored purses on the rack at a fashion outlet. I wanted something on the small side, but big enough to accommodate my cell phone and brush — something that would go with my new pink and green floral print linen dress. A summer handbag.

I found two contenders, neither very pricey, and couldn’t make up my mind.

As I stood in front of the register, with both, the clerk stared at me when I questioned their return policy. Well, of course, you can return an item within 30 days of purchase, if returned with a receipt and all the tags still in place.

She looked at me like I must have been living under a rock most of my life.

When I got home and examined both next to my summer dress and shoes, I formed a preference. I was surprisingly pleased, almost gleeful about setting both handbags in the seat next to mine for the short drive back to Riverpoint Plaza, so I could to transact the return.

It was easy. No cash was exchanged, only my credit card was re-swiped. I made a mental note to check on this month’s statement to make sure the credit was posted.

I kept thinking about the phrase, Many Happy Returns. I looked up the entry on Wikipedia.

“Many happy returns” is a greeting which is used by some on birthdays, and by others in response to “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year.” Since the 18th century this has been used as a salutation to offer the hope that a happy day being marked would recur many more times. “

I now had a vastly different understanding of the phrase.

I think of the fantastic sense of freedom I have when I can re-choose something, or make a new choice.

At restaurants, I love it when I find myself gravitating towards the Alaskan Salmon, then end up getting the duck when the waitress actually asks (I figure I can get a single portion of nice quality seafood more easily than prepare a duck leg the French way).

I might get a kick over picking out a route back home from a destination and find myself changing my route multiple times after I get a beat on traffic and construction.

And who doesn’t fight with their couch buddy over the right to hold the remote during a TV night at home?

There’s something about exercising your right to re-choose that’s almost more liberating than making the choice in the first place. It’s great to remind myself that there’s no judgment involved in exercising a preference, even in changing my mind.

I’m not a big shopper. I don’t consider it a sport or hobby. I don’t think I’ll ever plan a vacation around bringing something back home from a foreign land — even if it’s not something my friends will likely have (and I do like feeling special).

I don’t think I’ll look into ways to stretch a store’s return policy or shop with the intention of bringing something back as a strategy to feel the short-term thrill of stepping into something I can’t afford.

But I like to feel the freedom of changing my mind. I like being able to change my mind without the weight of any judgment, even my own.

A shopping do-over is no small thing.

 

Open the Window

It’s already the middle of May, and I haven’t really felt, as the saying goes, that spring has sprung.

I’ve already transferred my warm weather clothes to my bedroom closet. In anticipation of picnics, I put a few bottles of sauvignon blanc in the fridge. I got tickets for several baseball games (and have kept them in a very visible spot to remember I had something to look forward to).

I considered that many springtime events had taken place, but it didn’t quite feel like spring.

I know my surroundings are greener, but it’s rained so much these past weeks and has remained cold (I still hear the furnace kicking on at night). I haven’t spent much time outdoors and don’t feel the spirit of the season.

I don’t know why this has been disheartening, but I’ve been so hungry to get some Vitamin D into my skin, to spend time outdoors.

It’s humbling to be reminded that each year is different and maybe it’s ironic, now that Mother’s Day is upon us, to see a demonstration of how Mother Nature will not be hurried. A warm temperature takes its own time in becoming an everyday forecast.

An unexpected impulse came over me as I looked out my living room window and saw the top of the maple tree just outside. It was as if I heard a voice inside saying…

Open the window…

Ah, when did WINDOW come to mean a set of options graphically displayed on my computer screen?

Acting on this impulse became a sort of ritual.

I adjust the blinds in my living room every day to let sunlight into my home, angling the slats to let shadow and light paint wide horizontal lines on the walls. But I haven’t pulled the blinds up and haven’t unlocked the hardware that kept the sliding casement tightly shut since last September.

Oh my God! Is this what it looks like OUTSIDE?

I could see down the block. Parked cars, in a colorful and random order, seemed like metal blossoms amid low lilac and forsythia bushes planted between the sidewalk and the street.

Then I ran my hands over the top of the white frame of the window. I had to unlock it before sliding it up. This slowed me down. It was as if some voice inside me wanted me to take in the moment. I heard, Do you know what you’re about to do?

I can’t say that an overwhelming scented breeze, happily avoiding the stairs, entered my apartment. It was more like the air that was inside the room, static for so long, moved out of the way. The air from outside and the air from inside my living room started mingling.

Boundaries were removed. A playful rebelliousness, a sort of freedom, filled my home.

As I took a couple breaths, I sensed that the air molecules from cooking last night’s dinner and the accumulation of chimney dust from my downstairs neighbor’s frequent winter fires represented a smaller percentage of the air inside me.

I naturally found myself making room for something new. To breathe in the moment — OPEN THE WINDOW.

Letting the outside in is no small thing.

Anomaly

Years ago, I read a book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb that discusses black swan theory as it applies to financial markets and to historical events.

A black swan is an event that cannot be predicted from current or past conditions, has a significant impact, and, after the fact, is treated with a variety of rationalizations to explain it.

Last weekend, persuaded by the rainy weather, I decided to take on some serious cleaning projects; the kind that called for gloving up.

I looked under my kitchen sink, where I store my household cleaning supplies, and started pulling out yellow latex gloves, molded to fit either a right or left hand.

One by one, I found myself calling out Right…Right…Right. I had four or five right-handed gloves and absolutely NO left-handed gloves. (Believe me. I looked.)

How could this be? I bought the gloves in pairs. Maybe I lost one or two gloves from tears and they had to be thrown away.   But I couldn’t imagine the odds of having four pairs where early retirements were imposed for same hand.

Maybe this event is not significant and would not qualify as a black swan. Maybe this was just an anomaly –- but I felt compelled to try on different explanations.

I looked under the sinks in the bathrooms. I considered that gloves were separated from their mates as past household chores took my plastic bucket and diluted Pine Sol into other rooms.

I considered recent repair chores. Did I re-hinge any cabinet doors where I was more likely to get my left-hand glove caught on the hardware?

I couldn’t come up with a good explanation.

I started laughing.

OMG, I guess I’m not supposed to do any cleaning today.

Looking for excuses, this was the first thought crossed my mind.

I laid out the gloves and just looked at them. They looked so silly, like rubber chickens, stretched out next to each other.

Then I started thinking about how I would use what I had to do what I wanted to do.

I thought about doing my heavy scrubbing just with my right hand. I picked up each glove and examined them for flexibility. I looked at the possibility of wearing a right-handed glove on my left hand.

I filled my bucket a quarter way high and dropped in heavy splash of gold colored cleaner. I tried not to breathe in the fumes.

I thought about the surprise and the strangeness of the situation; how my first reaction was to look for explanations. Maybe I wanted to find a way to blame myself for the anomaly. Then I laughed at not being in control. Then I set my mind to thinking of ways to work with what had been given to me.

I probably spend too much time and energy, in all sorts of situations when something really unexpected occurs, mentally re-hashing how the situation evolved and ruminating on whether I should have done something differently.

I guess it’s human nature to seek out a certain level of predictability in life, to make plans, to seek out preferred outcomes.   A certain period of loss seems reasonable to indulge in. It takes a while to regain your bearings and get over things.

But it seems important not to be taken in, not to fall into whining or regret. It’s important to face the unexpected with humor and humility. It can be energizing to use anomalies or unexpected circumstances as motivation for invention or for adaptation.

Feeling the hot water as I wring out a sponge while wearing two right-handed gloves is no small thing.