Back when I was a young man studying Japanese martial arts, I was always frustrated by the fact that I have a poor talent for languages. When I first joined the Air Force, I had to take a battery of tests to find out where my particular talents lay. In that way, according to the old hands, they could avoid giving me a job I’d be good at.
However, in my case, just the opposite happened. I was good at math and showed an aptitude for electronics, so they trained me to fix the equipment that people who were good at languages used to listen to our enemies (and our friends, I later learned). On most of the tests I averaged 85% or better. Languages came up at 12%. If that doesn’t seem all that bad to you, then consider that taking the test blind-folded should have given me a 25% just based on random odds. So when the majority of my martial arts instruction was given in Japanese, you can imagine how lost I felt. I always told myself that if the time ever came for me to teach, I’d do it in English. That way I could be understood and the students wouldn’t have to fret over learning a new language. Instead, they could spend all their energies working on learning the techniques.
I also didn’t care much for the bullying that takes place in every school. Even the instructors seemed to take delight in giving out physical punishment for the most innocent mistake. I told myself I’d never do that, either. And yet, when the time came, I learned that there’s a reason to teach Westerners using a foreign language. Tell someone in their native tongue to do something, and s/he will interpret those instructions according to preconceptions laid down over a lifetime. Give those same instructions in a different language and the student will think harder about what you might have meant, instead of jumping immediately to their own conclusions. Conclusions that (believe me) are invariably wrong.
I found that the same applied to the use of pain as a teaching tool as well. I still didn’t allow bullying, but I found that unless the student feels the pain of the technique they’re applying to their training partner, they won’t believe how effective it can be. So they’ll often “work” too hard on applying unnecessary pressure, thereby injuring their partner. Pain, I discovered, is an essential part of learning.
And so we come to today. I fell again over the weekend. That’s only the third time this year, but it seems to be happening more often. My wife was home and she helped me get up. That’s a process that, in the best of times, takes me 30-45 minutes by myself. With her help, we managed to stretch it into an hour. That’s in part because, laying around the house, I’ve allowed myself to get rather large. Large to the point where I can no longer pick myself up using just my arms. I have to wrangle myself into a position where I can get my legs under me so that they can take most of the weight. That might not sound too difficult, but I can’t use my knees. If you think that’s easy, try it sometime. Eventually she brought in the wheelchair ramp from the van and placed one end on the top of a low stool. The other end went up against my butt.
By inching backwards a little at a time, mostly rocking from side to side, I managed to work my way backwards up that ramp until I was about 18″ off the floor. From there, with her help, I was able to stand and totter over to the bed where I collapsed.
Three days later I still feel like I’ve been beat with a baseball bat. Every inch of my body feels battered and bruised, and my joints feel like I took a ride in a clothes dryer. This will pass in a few days, but the feeling of uselessness it’s left me with will be around a bit longer. Most of the time I take my disability in stride. When something happens that’s outside my control, I learn from it and move on. The physical pain that comes with these lessons is a big motivator to avoid making the same mistake twice. But the emotional pain that comes from becoming helpless is harder to learn from. And yet, somehow, I must.
Episodes like this serve as a reminder that this is a progressive disease. Eventually I won’t be able to do anything for myself. And that is very depressing. But it’s not my way to give in to depression — at least, not for long. I’ve got too much left to do to spend time feeling sorry for myself. But I can, and do, sometimes feel sorry for my wife. Even though I was a cripple when we married, she didn’t really understand what it was going to be like, taking care of very large baby. Even though she’s a nurse by training and by temperament, she needs some time away from the neediness that patients put on you. And being married to me doesn’t give her that time.
So I’ve decided to stay home next month when she goes to visit her family up North. We’d been planning to go together (and take Dawg) so she could show me where she was raised, but the trips I took to Arkansas showed me that I don’t travel well anymore. It wouldn’t be any fun for me, and it certainly wouldn’t be any fun for her. I’d wind up spending the whole trip in some hotel bed, recovering from the ride, and she’d feel obligated to stay with me. She needs some time away from worrying about me every second. Some place where she can have fun and relax and not be the nurse.
Me and Dawg and the Cat will be fine. It could be good for me as well to rediscover my own independence. And to practice not falling down. Even in the pain of separation, there are lessons to be learned. Like: maybe I’m not completely useless after all.