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on getting hurt and taking time

My partner got me roller skates for Christmas. In the midst of the pandemic, I had been craving learning new, and especially athletic skills and had dropped a dozen not-so-subtle hints that I wanted a pair of roller skates to him. I was so excited to receive them, feeling on the brink of a new, more mobile, slightly hipper version of myself.. They were very cute, white and pristine with light up wheels. I also bought a helmet and knee pads to ENSURE safety. Last week, I put them on for the first time to practice before dinner. Thinking that, because as a third grader I went to two school sponsored skate parties at our local rink in Tucson, I already knew how to roller skate, I immediately got up on my feet without really thinking twice. I assumed, pretty idiotically, that it would all come back to me after LITERALLY over 20 years of time and two feet more of height and the natural creakiness that happens after age 25. I got up, rolled about a foot on our smooth wooden floor and lost my weight distribution, did what I imagine to be a cartoon-like flail of arms and legs and landed with my left foot bent so it was facing my head and my ankle bent unnaturally over the top of my skate.

You guys, I cannot emphasize enough how little time I was on roller skates before I broke my ankle.

The last week has felt like every new development has been trying to out-suck the thing before it. My injury escalated from oh-that’s-probably-just-a-sprain on Monday to needing surgery and several months of recovery on Friday, and I am now staring down the barrel of a very long journey after over a year of limitations and inability to do a lot because of sheltering in place. Other sucky things are happening in my life that aren’t necessary for me to list here, because they aren’t part of this particular story. We have a quote that circulates in my family when we are having a string of sucky things happen to us. It’s from the 1994 classic The Little Rascals. Alfalfa is being chased by bullies and having generally having a very bad day and he looks up at the sky and says “and then the clouds opened up and God said ‘I hate you Alfalfa.’” This week, I feel like Alfalfa.

It’s funny, it is. You have my full permission to laugh. It’s also infuriating and devastating and I am particularly aware of the duality of how deliciously ridiculous life can be, and the weight of being a fragile body at the mercy of random accidents and the natural unfairness that life brings with it. A life in which you can break your ankle doing something stupid on the day a racist misogynistic gunman kills eight innocent people in another state and you don’t know how to process either thing in a way that makes any sense.

I am trying to figure out what I can learn from this moment instead of just what is hard about it. Here is what I have so far:

The way I broke my ankle was the perfect demonstration of one of my largest flaws as a creature built in America in the 21st century. I have an urgency to multitask. I rush things or half-do them so I can do something else at the same time. I respond to emails while on the phone, I scroll through social media while watching a movie. I brush my teeth while brushing my hair. When I was nannying for my niece and nephew I would sometimes do Spanish lessons on my phone when they would watch their TV for the day, even though I know my nephew likes to point things out and talk to me about the show he’s watching and gets frustrated when he and the show don’t have my full attention. I cram as much as humanly possible into a day, I am desperate to be productive. As many prettily designed memes about rejecting the idea that productivity equals worth that I have shared on instagram in the last year, I still push myself in this way.

When I fell on my roller skates, rather than focusing on what I was doing, and really learning how to be present in them, rather than feeling them in my feet, observing the way they move when I move in a chair, what felt stable and unstable, rather than do my research about how to get up and how to place my weight, or better yet, how to fall, in WHEELS THAT ARE ATTACHED TO MY FEET...rather than focus, I was multitasking. I was on a zoom call in a webinar about intimacy direction and the Black experience. It goes without saying that all of my attention and energy was also not focused on the facilitators of that webinar...because there were wheels on my feet. This need to do things fast and all at once resulted in an injury that cost me months of being able to do things I want to, and also really taking in the information in this webinar.

Since I’ve broken my ankle, it takes me forever to do anything. Getting out of bed, cleaned, dressed, and having breakfast is an ordeal that, start to finish, took me over an hour this morning. Getting up from the toilet takes careful focus and planning so that I can prepare my muscles to engage and stabilize so I don’t fall and further hurt myself. I cannot multitask in my current state, and it’s made me realize that my attention is always split and therefore never wholly engaged in anything. And that feels like such a loss.

We lose a lot by not being present. Real human connection, quality in our work, holistic understanding of new knowledge or a skill, safety. And, in all honesty, enjoyment in any of those things. With all of the stimulation around us we’re encouraged to always be split instead of channelled in one place. For me, that unhealthy pattern has hit a breaking point (pun very much intended).

For the next few months, I have to slow down, but will also try to do so deliberately. I will try to focus on one thing at a time. When I hear something, really hear it. When I read something, really read it. When I am present with someone else, give them my full attention. I will slowly guide my leg into every position and activity she needs to be in and do my best not to get frustrated when I don’t move as fast as I would like. And when there is inevitably another thing to grieve in the news, I will take the time to process it and feel it, and assess if there is anything I can do in that moment and beyond to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

If this last year has taught us anything, it is that time and attention are some of the most precious things we possess. And I for one do not want to waste those things by splitting them into tiny unrecognizable pieces. I want to keep them whole, so I can stay whole too.

Things to do in light of recent events (from the Anti-Racist Daily by Nicole Cardoza):

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