I'm very sorry for my long silence. I thought it would be shorter than it was.
The short version is, I lost the use of my hands for two months.
Sometime before Christmas I told you all on this blog that I had hand pain and needed to take a break. I had not only stressed and inflamed many of the muscles of my forearm, but also one or more of the tendons that connect those muscles to the elbow. Unfortunately, I was pretty stupid in dealing with it. The story of my stupidity is pretty boring, I suppose, but basically I kept making what I thought were radical, difficult changes in my routine and they kept turning out to be too little, too late.
The last of these changes was to stop using my right hand entirely. I not only used the mouse with my left hand, I typed with my left hand, and I chopped up vegetables for supper with my left hand. You can see this coming, can't you?
I barely know how to tell you what it feels like not to be able to use your hands. It feels like death. Because, I think, death—not a loved one's death, not a stranger's, but my death and yours—feels like helplessness. Death is the moment when it doesn't matter if your life's work is sitting unfinished on the desk, when the world doesn't care. The moment when you can't do anything about it. The moment that most of us, deep in our hearts, don't believe is coming.
I remember the sensation of stopping. The impatience in my soul, the forward momentum—I have to finish this edit I have to clean the house I have to start working on the new farm and show these people what I can do I have to plant my garden I have to—it died hard. Several times. The first time was at Easter. April 1st. I thought I'd be out for a month then. I thought that was a huge deal.
I didn't want to stop.
I learned to sit. I learned to let my mind wander, and not try to force it into important and purposeful paths. I couldn't do anything important and purposeful, anyway; thinking about it only hurt. I learned to sit and accept the world, let it come into me, whether it was important or not. The movement of the leaves in the wind. The tiny flowers in the grass and the bumblebees visiting them. The ants, the woodlice, the holes in that dead tree that the woodpecker made. I learned to sit in the woods and let them breathe around me. I learned to sit among the trees and not tell them over and over that I was wasting my important time by being with them. I learned their names. I carried my field guides in a bag I could sling around my neck almost without using my hands, and I learned what an ash tree looks like, and an elm, and a basswood. Once I started seeing the shapes of leaves, I couldn't stop. I know so little still, but I feel like I've learned so much. I know where there's a spring now, two slender tunnels opening out of the clay inner structure of a hillside, one slightly larger, one slightly smaller, like mother and daughter. I go to that spring every day. I pray, some. I also just sit. I watch a chipmunk run up and down, or a bird whose name I'm not sure of in the fading light go about its peaceful business. It doesn't have to be something important. Several times I've seen a pileated woodpecker—rare in these parts—but I don't go there to see it. If that was why I went, I wouldn't go. Not after the first time it failed to show up on my timetable.
I'm not saying it was a punishment, either. It was a kindness.
It was two months, in the end.
And it was worth it.
There are practical things. The benefit to my son, of having been called upon to be kind and gentle with me, to see that I'm not all-powerful; of having had to do things himself that he'd rather depend on me to do. The garden, which in spite of the weeds is a family endeavor now, my husband and son proud of what they've done for it—no matter if I go back to doing it all in time, I will remember and so will they. The bonds of need and help and kindness reaffirmed between me and my husband; I have felt so loved. But beyond even that, something has happened to me. Sitting in the woods; reading books, real books, at times of the day I used to spend online; not really wanting, anymore, to read about what's wrong with other people. (I'm not saying I never will again. But you know how they say that if you stop eating sugar, you stop craving it? It's like that.) I'm better at waiting for others now, not trying to fill every minute of my important time. I notice things more. I let the quietness come into my mind, the silence I used to run from so hard—I don't quite remember why. I think there were bad thoughts in it, regrets and fears—or I thought there were. I guess I've found some. They weren't so awful, once I stopped running.
I'm starting to use my hands again. A little. The other day I pruned back a potted heliotrope, scraggly and distorted from a winter of neglect. I cut it back hard—within an inch of where it comes out of the soil, sparing one bud to become the new stem. I layered good compost all over the soil around its roots. We think of these plants as flowers, but the life is not in the flower. The life, the strength, is in the root. I watered it deeply, let the nutrients from the compost leach down to where the roots drink. I prayed, You've cut me back, and You've nourished me. Help me grow straight now, and flower.