The Ark

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I sprained my knee last week, the knee that doesn’t have any cartilage in it anymore and that no longer completely bends or completely straightens out. Seriously, devastatingly crunched it, my leg folding like a jackknife as I fell straight down on it.
It’s been hard to walk since then. I conserve all my steps, saving up reasons to walk to the kitchen or out to the garage. The first two evenings after it happened, I didn’t take Buddy for a walk. But on the third night I forced myself to do the evening walk with him. I don’t know how many walks lie in Buddy’s future, but I do know that when he’s gone, I will regret every one of them not taken. But today it really, really hurts, and I’ve been looking into Buddy’s face, wondering if he (and I) can forgive me for skipping it.
For many years my elderly neighbor has taken several walks a day in our neighborhood. I used to think that maybe she was bored and had little else to do. Or maybe she didn’t get along with her family and the walks were her way of just getting out. In time I came to think she kept moving because it kept her alive.
I’m ashamed of this, but I used to avoid her. She caught me too many times, working in my yard or unloading my car, and she would insist on talking to me. The trouble was she spoke only Chinese. She would open up with a paragraph of animated speech and then look at me expectantly as if waiting for my response. I would always shrug my shoulders, shake my head, say “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” Then she would launch into more talk, and I would say again, sorry, I don’t know. We would go back and forth this way a few times, her stepping closer to me with each round, talking happily. She would give me no polite or graceful way to extricate myself and I always ended up just walking away from her, feeling wretched that I had to be rude in order to break away.
So I used to avoid her. If I was about to pull into my driveway and I saw her walking near my house, I kept on driving around the block. If I was walking the dog and I saw her down the block, I would pretend not to have seen her and cross the street, sometimes also reversing directions just to avoid the discomfort that her speaking to me always caused.
And then about a year ago I stopped seeing her around. Weeks, then months passed with no sign of her. I figured she must have died. Eventually I got out of the habit of scoping around for her when I left the house.
But today I saw her again and I think I understand why she hasn’t been out and about. She needs help to walk now. A member of her family was with her, supporting her with an arm to keep her steady while she took faltering steps. They stopped in front of my house and looked into my living room, as if she was considering coming over to say in Chinese, “Hey, what’s up, long time no see!” But really she was just taking a tiny rest before resuming. And I swear the oldies song by Matthew Wilder started playing in my head: “Ain't nothing gonna break-a my stride. Nobody gonna slow me down, oh no. I got to keep on moving.”
So now it is impossible for me to look Buddy in the face this evening and say, “Sorry, hon, not tonight,” because if that ancient old woman can keep putting one foot in front of another no matter what, my sprain is a piddling excuse.
But you can bet I’m going to be looking both ways for her again before Buddy and I proceed.

Portait of love

Views: 62

Comment by ThatGirl on July 5, 2017 at 11:12am

beautiful story...and I do so hope you heal quickly.  you GO girl, you fight that body and the signals, don't push too hard until your ankle can hold you up, but don't let that pain speak to loudly to your spirit...and now we know you will never think of that woman in the same way/

growing up in NYC, this kind of interaction is very common. I learned from my grandparents, who on one side spoke only Italian, that doing a task together requires no language at all,, and one can teach and enjoy something together without speech..i guess thats when we start to learn the language slowly while working together...maybe if you gardened with her, or solved a puzzle together, you'd pick up some Chinese!   and Hello, NJ..good to hear from you...same beautiful thoughtful writing as always

Comment by SydTheSkeptic on July 8, 2017 at 9:45am

Oh man, NJ!  I wish I could come over there and help with the Buddy walks.  

I can't help but wonder what amazing stories the ancient lady could share if only language were not a barrier. 

How far is Buddy able to walk?

Comment by NatureJunkie on July 8, 2017 at 11:58am

ThatGirl: The sprain is slowly healing, but as you know, the knee has its other problems. I'm hoping for some new bionic body parts by the end of the year. As it happens, I know a few words of Chinese because so many of the students I advise are from China. But the tonal basis of the language throws me all the time. "Did I say it right?" I ask my students. "Almost..." they tell me.

Steven: What an incredibly sweet thing to say. Thank you. Buddy and I are still getting out.

Syd: I know, every old person is a repository of amazing stories. I don't have many older relatives left, but I try to dig stories out of them whenever I can. How far can Buddy walk? He was ten when he came to me and he was limping with arthritis even then. But then he trots like a pony nonetheless and he can far outpace and outwalk me, so I've never been able to measure how far. I get the feeling that he could walk all day and still ask for more.

Comment by NatureJunkie on July 8, 2017 at 12:02pm

After I wrote this blog, I drove Buddy to one of my favorite neighborhoods. It's beautiful and quiet, and on the 4th of July evening the sound of robins, blue jays, and mockingbirds almost drowned out the sounds of firecrackers. It was so lovely I could mostly ignore myself, and we walked twice our usual distance. So my spotting the old lady had an amazingly positive effect, although she herself is oblivious to her part in my day.

Comment by Chig on July 9, 2017 at 5:43pm


Comment by SydTheSkeptic on July 9, 2017 at 7:18pm



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