Three weeks ago tomorrow, my wife Cathy had knee replacement surgery. The surgery took place early in the morning, and that afternoon the physical therapists came to get her out of bed—to get her up and moving with the aid of a walker. A side note: Cathy has violent reactions to most opioids, but she agreed to try Dilaudid after her surgery. When the therapists got her walking, she made it to the end of her bed before she said, “Bag.” She was referring, of course, to a sickness bag. I grabbed one and gave it to her. When she was done being sick, she said, “Let’s keep going.”
This is the only story you need to hear about Cathy to understand her strength and determination. Of course, the therapists were having none of it. “No, no,” one of them said. “Once you get sick, we take you back to bed.” The other said, “We don’t want to get you down the hall and then have an issue.”
Cathy was disappointed, even a little angry because she’d only been able to walk that short distance. But walk it she did, and when the sickness came and then passed, she wanted to continue.
We writers can take a lesson here. Let’s face it, the writer’s life is often one of disappointment, rejection, and sometimes despair. I also find, if my own experience is any evidence, that we can by a whiny bunch. We’re partially justified to feel as if the world is overlooking our talents because when it comes to the vagaries of the publishing business, a certain feeling of invisibility is every writer’s fate on occasion. Still, there’s a part of me that has to tell myself from time to time to “suck it up, Cupcake!”
I don’t mean to be flippant or to discount the significance of a writer’s despair. I only mean to say that in the larger scheme of things our suffering is often small potatoes. I say all this, knowing full well that at the time we creep into our states of despair, it all seems to matter, very, very much.
What can we do to honor the suffering without giving in to the despair? We can keep going. We can keep putting one foot in front of the other. We can keep writing.
Cathy’s recovery has been slow and full of consistent pain, the sort that starts to weary the person who has to bear it. Although I can’t feel the physical pain that she’s going through, my heart aches to know there’s nothing I can do, outside of offering love and patience and kindness, to take that pain from her.
So we soldier on. We put our shoulders to the wheel and push. We get through this minute and then the one after it, and the one after that, and on and on. In the process, we find time for moments of joy and grace. A dove has made a nest in the gutter just outside our front door. Today, on our way up our sidewalk (we’d been out to breakfast—another small blessing), I was about to ask when Mother Dove was going to hatch her eggs.
Then Cathy said, “She has babies.” She said it with such delight. Her face lit up, and she was, for that instant, rejuvenated. Beautiful, animated, vibrant. I saw in her the girl I fell in love with when she was sixteen. For those few moments, all thought of pain vanished. “Good job, Mother Dove,” Cathy said.
We went on into our house, Cathy with her walker. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other.
“Let’s keep going,” she said that day in the hospital.
And she is. And we are.