Three weeks ago, the universe decided to issue one of its lessons to me, using its pesky and often annoying "laws of physics." The lesson was: "Slow down, you dummy."
The circumstances of the lesson? On the July 4 weekend, while racing to change clothes in order to join a beach party and begin social consumption of some very fine Scotch with a good friend, I slipped on the basement stairs at my mother-in-law's house. (Mind you, no whiskey had yet been consumed.) When my left heel bounced down two steps and met the immovable object of the concrete slab floor, my patella tendon in the knee snapped loose, launching my left knee cap up under the skin of my lower thigh. The patella tendon is what secures your tibia to the rest of your leg musculature, and without it your leg is about as useful as that of a marionette that has had its strings cut. It flops around like a really big chunk of pasta.
Sow down! the universe was saying to me. Slow down, you dummy, or I'm gonna hurt you. There, you had it coming.
What ensued, of course, was surgery and the prospect of a long recovery that will occupy the remaining weeks of summer and all of the autumn. The irony of this was that the universe issued to me exactly the same message six years ago, when a similar accident on a different set of steps executed exactly the same injury to the other knee. At that time, I was hurrying to get steaks on the grill at a father's day picnic. So I darned well should have already learned this lesson.
The next months will see this lesson from the universe will be reinforced and reiterated, because surgery for tendon reattachment and the subsequent recovery and rehabilitation makes "slowing down" mandatory. Nothing whatsoever happens fast with a knee immobilized for many weeks. If the universe seeks to impart such a lesson, this is indeed the injury to do it.
Doing things slowly is not in my nature, and so this is a hard lesson for me to learn. My whole life I have done things in a kind of restless frenetic manner that borders on manic impatience. I walk fast, I eat fast, I read fast, I work fast, I play games fast. There are Saturday mornings where I have pulled a thousand weeds from the garden, done the grocery shopping, and washed three loads of laundry, all before 9:00 am. Fast.
I have taken a kind of perverse pride in this speediness, and it's true that in some cases this pace has served me well. In the professional world, completing tasks quickly is usually a very good thing, and my speediness has never compromised quality in an overly harmful way. In the business world, doing lots of work very well is much more valuable than doing very little to utter perfection. I have always been somewhat proud of the fact that I accomplish a lot, and do it quickly.
The universe does not agree with me, however, and as they say, pride goeth before a fall. In my case, literally.
Recuperating from knee surgery has seen me vacillate between being grumpy over not being able to do some things at all and not being able to do anything quickly, and increasing moments where I'm beginning to understand the merits of patient slowness. Virtually everything I do takes at least twice as long as it once did, and some things take even longer. Certain bathroom routines involve virtually disrobing from the waist down to accommodate a massive leg brace, and putting on shoes can take me five minutes or more. A simple walk around the block was a 30 minute endeavor the first time I did it, and making a meal is a painstakingly slow process.
But there's nothing for it but acceptance, which I am doing ever so gradually and a little grudgingly. There are two ways to approach such a reality, I'm finding. My natural impulse initially was to be annoyed by the whole thing, and indeed some of the time this has been my reaction: grumpiness bordering on melancholy. Gradually, though, I find there are meditative virtues to the slow life. If it takes you 15 minutes to walk a hundred yards, you begin to see things in the flower beds, the houses, that you never saw before. If it takes you several minutes to walk past a single home, the opportunity to meet the homeowner and strike up a meaningful converstation is much better.
Each act of walking become an exercise in meditation, if you are utterly focused on every movement. When just preparing for a shower takes 15 minutes, the feel of warm water cascading over sore muscles is enjoyable indeed. The other day, it took the better part of an hour to pick fresh zucchini, tomatoes, kale and green beans from the garden while teetering precariously on crutches. But my word, the salad and shrimp stir-fry tasted better than I ever remember.
Today, I found myself in one of my grumpy moods for awhile, annoyed at all the things I cannot do at the moment. But a few minutes ago I joined my wife on the deck, where we sat in web chairs next to one another but facing in opposite directions, reading our respective books. I glanced over at the teak bench and for moment and despaired over the fact that it badly needs to be refinished and that I cannot do it at the moment. But relaxing into the reality of this enforced inactivity, I began to admire the look of the grayed wood,and found a strange reassurance in the fact that nature always has its way with mankind's efforts to preserve things and have things our own way. Settling into the moment, I leaned back to admire the wisteria vine that has formed a green nest of the deck, and recognized that in the shifting wind patterns and cool temperatures today there is a hint of September coming.
And for this moment, anyway, I found complete satisfaction in the slow life.