Tortoises, Hares, and Empathy

Broken Ankle

Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

My adult daughter recently broke her ankle in a bicycling accident. She got a stainless steel plate and five screws surgically implanted into her leg. Now in a cast, she can’t walk or bear weight on her ankle for six weeks. Her orthopedist told her that even with physical therapy it will take about a year for her ankle to get back to normal.

Good friends rallied and got my daughter through her initial injury and surgery, and now I’m spending a few weeks with her to help her settle into her new reality. Before I leave, I hope we can figure out how she’ll get around her house and get back and forth to work by herself.

I have a theory that people are either tortoises or hares. I am a tortoise: slow and steady; evaluating a situation and creating an attack plan before I engage; methodical; analytical. My daughter is a hare: quick off the block; preferring to jump into a project and make adjustments as she goes; unconcerned with sizing up events as they unfold.

My daughter the hare misses being quick. Everything she does now takes so much longer than it used to.

My daughter the hare misses being fiercely independent. She now weighs the option of asking for help to get something done faster, or doing it by herself and taking twice as long to get it done.

Whether she’s on her crutches, on her scooter, or in a wheelchair cart at a store, my daughter the hare now moves slowly. I walk beside her or follow closely behind her and observe people’s reactions. Most people dart around her. Some people politely make room for her to pass. Some people make her wait while they finish whatever they’re doing before they let her go by.

My daughter the hare now gets tired because simple tasks are no longer effortless: getting in and out of the car; getting in and out of her house, office buildings, and stores; getting in and out of the shower; dressing herself.

My daughter the hare misses being outdoors, walking her dog, meeting friends for drinks, cooking, doing household chores, and all the other things she used to do quickly and easily.

Before her bicycling accident two weeks ago, my daughter the hare was running, hiking, and taking yoga classes several times a week in addition to working full-time and keeping a busy social schedule. My daughter the hare misses exercising her body.

I won’t sugarcoat my daughter’s situation. It sucks. It’s painful to watch her struggle through simple things like bathing and navigating the stairs in her home on crutches. It makes me ashamed to see people look inconvenienced by my daughter’s slowness because I’m sure I’ve had that look on my face when I’ve encountered a slow moving wheelchair as I’m rushing. It makes me want to cry to see the beginnings of depression lurking around my happy and energetic little hare. I can feel her frustration and her growing sense of isolation.

With every setback and bit of suffering that comes into our lives, we have the opportunity to grow. Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is something we can develop with each experience. As difficult as it is for my daughter, young, healthy, and fit, to adjust to living with her broken ankle, my heart aches for anyone with mobility issues who is older or in poor health. My daughter’s ankle will heal. Not everyone with mobility issues has the hope of walking unassisted again.

So the next time you see someone moving in the slow lane of life, please practice your empathetic skills. Be thankful for your ability to get around quickly and painlessly. Think about how long it took and how hard it was for that person slowing you down to get where you are now. Think about how lonely and isolating it feels for them to see people moving in the fast lane of the world as they get left behind.

This tortoise mom will notice, and she’ll be grateful. Someone else might be smiling at you as well. If God has to be either a tortoise or a hare, I’d put Him in the tortoise column. God is forever. He’s in no hurry. Which lane do you think He’s moving in?

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

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