I woke up Monday morning, unable to hold a cup of coffee in my left hand or pull a zipper. My wrist was swollen and immobilized and I had no idea what had happened.
My mind thought, “Perhaps at 58 you just wake up in the morning not knowing what part or appendage is going to be falling apart?”
I was back in Montreal attending the funeral of a close family friend, someone who had touched the life of my parents, my kids and myself. In a way I could not fully understand I knew it was important for me to be there to honour the difficult endings and not turn away.
It was not until I got home two days later, wrist still sore, that my wife Yogita’s searching questions helped me piece together what had transpired.
At the cemetery I had grabbed a spare shovel to help shovel dirt into the grave site. The dirt was a mixture of wet clay and small stones and the two men hired for the job were struggling. In five minutes of rigorous shovelling we had buried the casket, which meant in the Jewish tradition of the funeral, that the mourners could return back to the warmth of their cars and get out of the falling snow.
There was no moment when I felt any twinge of pain in my wrist that grey and somber afternoon and yet what I had come to see is that I had unknowingly hurt myself nonetheless by being out of touch with my own body. I realized talking to Yogita how easy it was to treat my body, especially as a man, in a machine-like way. As a vehicle for getting things done. Putting dirt into a hole. Getting it done.
I realized how far back this way of being traveled into my past. How many thousands of times that wrist had pushed forcefully on a shovel in my years of tree planting, grabbed tools and lifted timbers on construction projects, always focused upon speed and efficiency, the very things we expect from our machines.
But not learning to listen to the more subtle signals coming from my body about “how” to best “do” all this with more care for myself. That involves slowing down and paying more attention to the feeling sense within the body, noticing the signs of fatigue, the feedback loops of sensation that call us to adjust and notice what is happening inside ourselves.
It has been four days now since the funeral, and while still sore, my wrist is slowly getting better.
Our bodies are like the winter snow pack with all of its many layers, a snowfall, a suncrust, a long cold snap, a blizzard, each event etched into the hidden layers affecting the strength of the whole and carrying the history of what has been experienced.
We too carry the history of all we have experienced. My left wrist, given all that I have asked it to do, in often robot-like ways, is now like a fragile layer in the snow pack. A place in my body that asks me to pay a different kind of attention.