A Lesson in Empathy and Humility

June 26, 2017

It seemed reasonable. My husband wanted to sell some unneeded lumber. I wanted to help get it loaded onto our trailer. Weight-bearing is good for someone with osteoporosis. Exercise is good for staying fit and maintaining muscle tone. Getting positive endorphins flowing does a body good.

You get where I am going with this thought.

Except that, discretion is the better part of valor and there are limited advantages to being bull-headed even if one is a bull.

It was not until two days after I had helped load and unload the lumber that I could not get out of bed without help. A lesson-plan was unfolding for which the completion of homework on empathy and humility would be required.

It is not like I had never strained muscles before and known the special delights that wrenching spasms can bring. I knew that uncontrollable “Uhhhhhh” that is uttered when the pain grabs and understood that helpless feeling when a leg chooses to buckle unpredictably.

The second morning the spasms came, my husband was getting ready to leave on a fishing trip and although he offered to stay home, there was no way I wanted him and his two friends, to give up their trip. Once I was up and moving around the spasms ceased and as long as I moved slowly, carefully, thoughtfully they were almost nonexistent. As long as I respected the little voice of reason that whispered. “No, you can’t do that” and “Don’t even think about it!”, why should he have to babysit for me?

And so as the guys left on their trip, I dutifully began to do my homework as assigned for the lesson on empathy and humility.

First, I worked out a support system.

… Give phone numbers of my neighbors to one of my sisters whom I would call every morning just before I got into the shower and then again when I got out. Give neighbors just-in-case information. I now fully understood why my mother, then in her late 70s, chose not to use our deep bathtub. There are no grab bars for standing or sitting. One misstep could be disaster. How I wished we had installed a grab bar in our shower when we remodeled. We were much younger then. Hardly seemed necessary. Probably wasn’t even thought of. I made a mental note to make changes.

… Be sure my cell phone, suddenly a marvelous invention, was charged and with me at all times.

… Make use of my late mother’s four-pronged cane to help with stability first thing in the morning.

… Move slowly. Pay attention to placement of rugs. Turn on lights rather than move about in the dark. Reach for door frames for added security.

…Think planfully about what had to be done, might be done, or didn’t have to be done at all. This was a wake-up call after years of taking for granted the ability to do what I wanted as I wanted.

The homework was tedious but it was important. And the lessons learned were substantive. It was time to consider my own aging process and to contemplate how the woes of today, knowing ‘this too shall pass,’ compared to the future when they might not. This situation would be overcome but what kind of person might I become under less hopeful circumstances?

It was time to have deeper empathy and appreciation for those who face disability and pain on a constant unrelenting basis and face them with grace and without blaming everyone around them. I thought many, many times about my mother who lost the ability to use her legs and then even her hands in the last year of her life, some of it brought on by the negligence of people entrusted with her care at a facility when she could no longer live at home. She remained gracious, patient, and conducted herself with utmost dignity throughout that terrible time, a time she knew would only end when her heart gave its last beat. I remain in awe of her and how extraordinary she was.

It was time to give additional thought to the plight of others who have always had a spouse, partner, or someone to turn to and then separation, divorce, death or another life circumstance took that person away. Alone is not always a good thing to be.

My back is mending and I will keep on keepin’ on for a while yet.

Lessons in living, if we are open to them, continue throughout our lives and if we are wise we do the homework and take it to heart.

Jan Corey Arnett©2017