78: Nose to the Wall

78: Nose to the Wall

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Nose to the Wall

The first step toward creating an improved future is developing the ability to envision it.

~Author Unknown

I hesitated at the door to the physical therapy building. Why bother? I’d just gotten over an elbow injury. Before that, four retinal detachment eye operations had left me with badly impaired vision. Now I’d torn a tendon in my calf and foot. The good periods between injuries seemed shorter each time. The golden years — ha! They ought to be called the broken years. Why was I wasting my time? After three weeks of therapy, I still couldn’t walk without sharp pain.

The exercises the therapist assigned were embarrassing. Not only did I have to walk on a line across the room as if I were being tested for drunk driving, I also teetered like someone failing the test. I couldn’t balance on one foot for even fifteen seconds. Knowing what I’d lost was bad enough. Why display my feebleness publicly? Other exercises were simply wimpy or silly. Bend over and touch my knees. Stretch my foot with a loose elastic band. What good would they do?

Worst of all was nose to the wall. I had to stand a foot from a wall and, back straight, lean forward to touch my nose to the wall. And then repeat fifteen times. It seemed like something a cruel guard would do to humiliate a POW.

That’s what I felt like — a prisoner in the war against aging. Maybe it was time to accept that the war was over. I should give up strenuous yard work, carpentry, and the few sports activities I had left. I should buy a condo, watch TV, and eat ice cream. Nobody but my wife would see what I’d become.

“Excuse me,” a voice said behind me. A woman about my age, using a walker, panted from the exertion of navigating from her car to the building. I opened the door for her and stepped aside.

She smiled and thanked me. She passed into the foyer and hobbled to the second door. Feeling foolish standing there, I limped along and opened that door.

She grinned. “Ah, the lame leading the lame. Enjoy your pain today!”

My therapist had me warm up on a stationary bike. Four or five other senior citizens were on treadmills. We were all working hard and going nowhere. Most of them looked as vacant as I felt, going through the motions. Even if we fixed whatever plagued us this month, something else would be sure to zap us next month.

The woman with the walker struggled to mount the bike beside mine. She worked her way inch-by-inch to climb onto the seat.

“Want to race?” she asked once she’d made it.

I laughed.

“I’m serious,” she said. “First one to three miles wins. But you have to set your resistance level higher, because you don’t need a walker. If you were on crutches, I’d set mine higher.”

“But we’re not going anywhere,” I said.

“I am. Today when I close my eyes, I will be biking down a quiet country lane on a spring morning. The doves and cardinals are singing. You can smell the locust blossoms, so sweet they make the bees drunk. The bees roll around on the ground and we must avoid running them over. There’s a curve ahead that’ll take us to the stream. Be careful going across the narrow board that’s used for a bridge — you don’t want to hurt yourself.”

“It sounds like you’ve been there. Is it a real place?”

She grinned. “To me it is. More real than here.”

“Sounds nice.”

The man next to me was plodding along on a treadmill with glazed eyes. She whispered loud enough for him to hear. “A lot of people find this place depressing.”

“No kidding.”

“So I’d rather spend these twelve minutes riding down my lane, wouldn’t you? You look like someone who’s competitive, which is why I suggested racing.”

“Let’s do it.” I set my dials and we started.

At first I pushed hard. She was right. I am competitive. But I soon shut my eyes to the workout room and pictured the lane — sunlight streaming in through the big oaks overhead. I visualized a dry, sandy lane, and after a while the swish-swish of the machine did sound a bit like tires on sand. I slowed down to take in the sights and sounds.

At first it was her lane, just as she described it, but after I crossed the plank bridge — confidently and without a wobble like I would have done five years ago — I changed the scene. I pictured my favorite bike trail along a river, the water rippling and sparkling and a fish jumping.

I was no longer on a machine going nowhere. I was enjoying an outing. I had not biked that trail in years. Why not? Even if I couldn’t play tennis, I could still bicycle. Tomorrow, instead of brooding at home, I’d strap the bike to the car and drive to the river.

I faced the fact that it was my attitude, not my injuries, making me miserable. I had created my own prison of loss and embarrassment. Why not energize this moment — right now in boring physical therapy. Wasn’t this very moment as valuable as any other moment in life? If my body didn’t respond to therapy, I’d still enjoy today’s fantasy. By fighting physical therapy, I was the one killing those hours of my life.

When I put my nose to the wall later, maybe I’d pretend I was leaning forward for my first shy kiss. Or leaning to an open window to sniff freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. Or just enjoying the silliness of leaning my nose to the wall.

As I was conjuring up other nose-to-the-wall possibilities, my racing companion interrupted.

“You’d better step on it. I’m a tenth of a mile ahead. Are you going to let an old woman beat you?”

“Not on your life.” I pushed hard to get to the peak of the next hill, where a field of golden hay waved in the sun.

~Garrett Bauman

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