As I trotted off to work this morning I saw a young person walking down the street. They were holding a set of walkers in their left hand, and I noticed that their legs moved in a unique way as they took each step. A little slower than I was moving, a little bit more unsteady, it seemed as though this person might need the walkers from time to time to move confidently. But not today.
I don’t know what it’s like to be that person, obviously. But as I walked past them, I spent a few minutes contemplating this idea of a young person, wearing shorts and a t-shirt in celebration of the gorgeous weather outside, simply taking a walk. They didn’t have a bag or a travel mug with them, it didn’t seem like they were going to work. And then this compelling image of a person with walkers, choosing to carry them instead of using them for support. That really struck me.
Here was a person making a choice. We can’t possibly know what kind of choice. Perhaps this person was on the road to recovery from an injury to their legs and today was the first day they were able to walk without walkers. Perhaps they were born with musculoskeletal challenges, but today they just didn’t need their walkers – or, hell – maybe they just said “screw it” and decided not to use them just because they felt like it. Who knows.
I had a lot of emotional reactions to this person. At first, I thought about damages I have done to my body over the years through food, or alcohol, or cigarettes, or just a general lack of self-care. I thought about how selfish and thoughtless it is for me to not take care of the muscles and bones that carry me around.
Then I thought about how lucky I am to never have had to recover from an injury or illness that impeded my ability to walk. I just love being able to move, and as I settle into my 40’s, I am proud of how much mobility I have maintained. I thought of Carla, off her feet right now and not teaching classes at Hustle and Flow, and how frustrating that must be for her as she spends time recovering from injury.
I thought of other movement friends and the physical challenges I’ve seen them overcome, and I thought of what they must have gone through in their time off the mat, or off the dance floor, or off their bike, or whatever their chosen modality of movement is. It must be so frustrating.
As I continued to contemplate this throughout the day, my idea of “injury” or “illness” began to expand to include other things. Why did I feel a kinship and a recognition of some kind of universal truth with this person with their walkers in their hand, when that was not something I have ever experienced?
I haven’t been moving a lot lately, and it isn’t because my body is hurt, it’s just that I am recovering from injury, I am recovering from illness. But my injuries are invisible to the naked eye, and they are invisible to the people around me – unless they’re paying close attention. When I am able to (metaphorically or actually) take a walk in a pair of shorts and simply celebrate the day for being a lovely day, I don’t have anything to show that I am working hard to put one foot in front of the other; I don’t have a way to say or to show, “I often need a lot of help just to do this. But not today.”
Mental illness and trauma are complex conditions beyond our understanding, and our bodies play a big factor in maintaining our health when we are beholden to working through things like clinical depression, PTSD, and grief. We don’t look ill, we don’t appear injured to the outside world. People don’t treat you as if you are any different or need any help.
It makes me question myself: is this real if nobody else can see it? How can I ask for help when I seem so strong and healthy to others? No one will believe that I need it if I ask to be carried.
Maybe it’s this, maybe this is why I had such a strong reaction to this young person on their sunny morning walk today: do unto others. Perhaps this is a way to be more gentle in the world. To assume that every single one of us usually needs a lot of help just to get by. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. We all have our day when we carry our walkers as we walk confidently through the sun, and we all have our day when we don’t even try to get out of bed when walking feels just too difficult to face. Whether we can see it or not.
I promise, as I slowly make my way back toward my movement practice among the open hearts and arms at Hustle and Flow, to hold this kindness for each of you in my heart and mind as we move together. I truly look forward to seeing you in the orange room soon!