“Were you in an accident?” asked the chunky, spiky haired masseuse at my physical therapist’s office as I lay on a table. She was working on my left foot and leg, per her boss’ instructions.
“No,” I said. “I walked more than 500 miles.”
And maybe trekking that distance, in my case, created physical effects equivalent to being in an accident. But what is an “accident”, anyway? According to kabbalists, other mystics, Carl Jung and others, there are no “accidents” or “mistakes”: everything that happens – whether we like it or not, whether foreseen, intended or anticipated or not – has a reason for it. We might not understand the reason(s) immediately, or even ten or more years later; but, if we’re willing to use our “accidents” and “mistakes” to look more deeply at ourselves or, collectively, at our environment, we create the possibility of growth and change.
I thought of the film The Way, whose protagonist walks the Camino de Santiago carrying a box of his son’s ashes. In one scene, a French police officer declares that no one walks the Camino “by accident”. Which, if true, implies that it was no accident that I, and my acute tendonitis, landed in physical therapy. Not that this was an inevitable or predetermined outcome of my adventure; it’s just that there is something I am supposed to learn, once and for all, in this experience: to listen to my body.
Still, although I do rehabilitative exercises daily, and am ambulatory, I haven’t fully embraced the fact that I will need to learn to move my body differently to avoid re-injury. And some days I am a bit grumpy about having to avoid intense weight-bearing exercise, and even walking more than short distances, for a while. And perhaps it was this grumpiness that, last weekend, caused me to get up late and arrive at the local pool towards the end of the lap swim hours, when it was more likely to be crowded, rather than at the very beginning, when I might have a shot at my own lane, at least for awhile. Indeed, my grouchiness intensified when a family of four, including two school age children, jumped into the lane, each of them swimming at a different pace from me and each other, a situation that could increase the likelihood of someone getting kicked in the face or a more serious “accident”. Outnumbered, I ducked under the divider and finished my workout in a slightly less crowded lane.
While showering, I heard two women chatting in neighboring stalls, their voices rising and falling above the splashing of the water. Stepping outside to grab my towel, I saw two prosthetic legs, blue with flesh colored “feet”, leaning against the white tile walls. As I dressed in the locker room, the two women, each now wearing one of the legs, strolled toward me, their conversation continuing.
“You should have seen how much sand I tracked inside the house after going to the beach,” said one, who I learned was visiting from Chicago. “This leg can be hard to clean.”
“No kidding,” said the other. And, gripping the beige fabric band around the top of the device: “This part gets dirty, too.”
I marveled at the ease with which they maneuvered, an ease probably earned over many painstaking months. And I marveled that our paths had crossed that day. Clearly, that was no accident.