Embodiment: Lessons in Living without Some Skin

Injuries are strange things. Last week, while climbing a tree, I lost grip and slid down the trunk, my bare feet and pajamad knees and hips taking the brunt of the damage. Since then, I’ve had to rethink my whole body.

I admit, it’s a luxury to able to do it in this fashion, assured that I will heal, and all the damage superficial. Because of the way I gripped the tree on the way down, my knees are scab-encrusted. My hips are shredded. I have bruises on my hands and elbows. The worst of it was the wounds on my toes. I climbed barefoot, and the skin on each of my big toes ripped clean off.

This has made the simple act of walking quite difficult. Bandage-wrapped, I hobbled around for a few days, barely able to put weight on the front part of my feet for the pain. In healing (and in my learning to better wrap the wounds) I’ve gained back some of my mobility.

The real chewable thought here is how much we take for granted in able bodies. With my knees unmovable, stairs became daunting things. Curbs were even painful. We do not live in a world that is friendly to those who have to live in bodies different from the norm, and if one appears “normal” on the surface, people around one tend to be unaccommodating of folk who move to accommodate pain, or an injured limb, or a body that simply doesn’t work the same as others.

While stepping on to the bus, I had to lean heavily on the railing for support, my feet screaming in their boots as I did. A woman in the front seat harangued me: “We ain’t got all day! Hurry up and sit your ass down!” When a child tread on my toe and I yelped in pain, his mother chided me. When I took slow small steps in the mall, the girl on her cell phone started talking to the person on the other end, “Yeah, I’m stuck behind this slow cow. I think she’s retarded or something, she’s walking funny.”

It’s not a friendly world. Beyond that, I’ve gnawed on the notion of how much I’ve had to reconfigure my daily routines: the way I lowered myself onto the toilet to use it, the manner in which I opened the front door, suddenly avoiding catching it on my hip, learning to pivot on my heel instead of on my toe to avoid having the apartment complex’s foot traffic gate shut on me. Even the act of putting on shoes has been a complicated dance of unbending legs and weeping scabs.

As gruesome as it sounds, I am deeply grateful for this experience. It is, as I’ve said, a luxury. It has helped hone an empathy, an awareness of a body’s limitations that I don’t think I could have seen quite this way when I was younger.

Knowing this and chewing these thoughts, I have to say, they are a rather bitter meal.

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