No Man is an Island
It is said that “No man is an island.” That is to say, no one is truly self-sufficient and, as social creatures, we must rely on the company and comfort of others to thrive. If you’ve ever suffered a debilitating injury, you are all too familiar with this very true concept. It’s not so much the initial injury that is the primary cause of one’s woes; rather, it is the long road to recovery. Sure, when you first break a bone or tear a tendon or whatever may be the case, the initial pain is awful, but it is hopefully short-lived. But then comes the treatment. Surgery, hard cast, crutches, physical therapy, infections, whatever you can imagine. Weeks, even months pass by as your body begins to heal. Summer turns into fall, and fall turns into winter, and you still can’t fully ambulate without assistance. This is when you fully appreciate you are not an island.
Losing mobility equals losing your independence. This is the worst part of being injured in an accident. Sure, the never-ending doctor visits and ever-mounting medical bills can be a nightmare and cause a lot of stress and financial uncertainty, but there’s nothing worse than losing your independence. Since my little encounter with a shark, I’ve been on crutches now for seven weeks, and have three more to go. I never fully appreciated all the little things I cannot do now, like getting my morning coffee without spilling scolding hot liquid on my foot, taking my own dirty dishes to the dishwasher, dressing myself without having to sit on the floor, and pretty much every menial daily task we take for granted. I won’t even get into explaining the bathing situation.
The thought of being waited on hand and foot may sound appealing, but believe me, it’s not. Although we all rely on others in our lives to some extent, we also value our independence even more so. Having to rely on others for everything imaginable is an extremely humbling experience. I try to keep my needs to a minimum -- like food, water, and toilet -- but there’s so much more we do daily. Simply opening a door, for instance, can be a challenge. My parents instilled in me the gesture of holding a door open for people, not just women to display chivalry. I’m shocked at how many people don’t do that, even for a guy on crutches. But when it happens, it’s awesome. Please do. And I know some people with disabilities don’t want your help; they desperately want to be independent. I get that. But for me, I swallow my pride and welcome all the help I can get.
I admit I did resist help for the first week or so. I didn’t want to be a burden on others. But I know I would help someone in my situation, and I believe most people truly don’t mind lending a hand. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I’m very self-aware of my limitations by now and trying to do certain things on my own inevitably results in disaster. This brings me to my story of my recent venture to Target.
My son wanted to go shopping for computer accessories, so off to Target we went. I didn’t think about all that would entail and, like most things I try to do these days, I didn’t think it through. As I entered the store, I suddenly recalled just how enormous Target really is. And, of course, the electronics department is located a mile away in the back. That store suddenly grew two-fold in my head. But then I saw three motorized scooters by the shopping carts. I stood there for a moment, having a moral dilemma in my strange, over-analytical mind. I went back and forth trying to decide whether I wanted to use one. Did my being on crutches really warrant using a scooter? Would people judge me because I’m youngish and probably could make do on my crutches? Was I taking something that someone with greater limitations might need? In the end, I decided to go for it. Besides, the thought of driving through a store sounded pretty cool. I swallowed my pride and hopped on. Then I put it in reverse and the ear-piercing back-up beeping began. I suddenly wanted off that ride. But then again, in my crazy mind, I wondered if people would detect my embarrassment and think I thought I was better than the others who rely on these modes of transportation every day. I was really having an overblown, irrational existential crisis. In the end, I committed to it. My armpits thank me.
I made sure to fully extend my casted leg out so people would see why I was on the scooter. Apparently, I care way too much about what other people think. Along those lines, I discovered I had more and more questions about what I was doing. This was a new experience for me, and I started wondering if there is certain scooter etiquette. I tried to liken it to applying the typical rules of the road. After all, I was essentially driving a vehicle surrounded by pedestrians. I wondered, for instance, who has the right-of-way? Normally, pedestrians do, but I was in Target. But do they yield to me because I’m disabled? I didn’t know. So, I just learned as I went, trying to be as aware of my surroundings as possible in an effort to minimize inconveniencing anyone or running over a small child. I must say, if my injury was permanent, I would certainly equip my scooter with any and every accessory available, such as rear-view and side mirrors, a horn, turn signals, you name it. I knew I was overanalyzing everything, but it was a new experience, and I was definitely out of my comfort zone.
I did learn one thing very quickly: waving to other people on scooters is NOT a thing. If you’ve ever been on a boat or a motorcycle, you’ve probably noticed that people wave to each other. I never really knew why, but I just went along. I figured it was an open-air vehicle thing and was just courteous to do. Not the case. People on boats wave to each other because they’re having fun and want to feel like you are in the same boat so to speak. It’s like you’re in an exclusive club. But people on scooters are not doing it because it’s fun. I mean, it was a little fun because it was my first time, but your average person would much rather be able to stand on their own two feet. Lesson learned.
Because I’m an immature child, I also took the opportunity to embarrass my 12 year-old, as is every parent’s right. So, when we arrived at the toilet paper aisle, I couldn’t resist the urge to scoot along with my arm fully extended, slowly scooping roll after roll of toilet paper into the handy cart attached to the front. He was not amused, but I got a good laugh out of it. Then my son had to chide me when I received a text message and began texting while scootering, if that’s a word. I wondered if I was committing some sort of obscure traffic violation. It was certainly irresponsible if nothing else. My son, who has more maturity in his pinky than I do, finally decided it was time for us to go when I attempted a U-turn in one of the aisles and crashed into a display, knocking over various merchandise. I was certainly a spectacle, causing mayhem at every turn.
I’ve come to appreciate that having physical limitations is a huge challenge, which comes with a bit of a learning curve. It can feel like you are not a whole person at times. It can get you down at times. Don’t let it! It has certainly been an eye-opening experience for me, but as a species, we have been blessed with the incredible ability to adapt. Recovery is a long road, but there are so many tools to help you maintain some semblance of independence. Use them!
I’ve become quite the pro at using crutches, but God gave us two legs for a reason. For example, when you’re on crutches, standing at the top of a flight of stairs can feel like staring down the barrel of a gun. Know your limitations! Don’t be stupid. Be careful, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. I’m not suggesting you get a bell to ring every time you need a cup of coffee, but accept the fact that, overall, people are happy to do things for you. Indeed, Scripture teaches us to do just that: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 3:13-17).
I’m not asking for anyone to wash my feet like Jesus did for his disciples, but most people do jump at the opportunity to serve. Let them! Embrace the concept that no man is an island, but also remember to let those who serve you know that you appreciate their kindness. That reminds me, next time I’m at Target, I need to pick up some “Thank you” cards.