If you had told me I’d be going to my high school reunion with a cast on my arm, I wouldn’t have believed it. After all, I was still in recovery mode and doing physical therapy following hip surgery a couple of months before. I could almost picture going to my 60th in bad shape, but my 40-year reunion? Never.
Earlier in the summer, I endured two weeks on crutches after spending the past year on and off a cane following a serious tendon injury I got in a dance class at the gym. I wish I could remember the name of the song I was so enthusiastically shaking my booty to, but all I remember is searing pain, white-hot light, and wondering if I were going to pass out. I somehow managed to limp out of class, hobble to my car and drive myself home. Pride stood in the way of my asking for help.
Pride reared its head again as I prepared to go to my class reunion.
It’s not that I was worried so much about what others would think of me, although, to be honest, there was certainly some of that. In the wake of my injuries, I felt like I’d turned old overnight, without warning. When I saw my contemporaries, I wanted to feel youthful, to put my best foot forward, and to be mentally and spiritually in a place where I could enjoy my classmates and myself at this milestone event.
It was too late, and also impossible, to undo a fall on the concrete steps beside our home, which left me with not only a fractured wrist but also a black eye. I had to make the best of things: I got a blue cast—one of our school colors (Go Scouts!) and the color of my dress, had my toenails painted to match, and got my hair cut short. It had to be wash-and-wear because there was no way I could manage a blow dryer, let alone a flat iron or curling wand.
It was also too late to lose the weight I’d gained since the hip fiasco. In more than a year of combining both Eastern and Western healing modalities, I still couldn’t hike or walk the dog around the block—my two go-to modes of exercise. Boldly (and somewhat uncharacteristically) I said, “Screw it,” and decided to wear a sleeveless, summer maxi dress, forgoing a shawl or a shrug, and baring my arms for all to see.
The bottom line was I had to let go of my perceived physical shortcomings, which mostly involved setting aside my pride, which is, after all, one of the seven deadly sins, marked by too much preoccupation with self. I had no intention of harshly judging my classmates; why couldn’t I afford the same kindness to myself?
After all, this reunion wasn’t about me, it was about the collective US. There were upwards of 450 in my graduating class. More than 200 lovely, friendly souls, including a fair amount of spouses, attended our big bash on Saturday night. There are too many of us who are no longer alive thanks to accidents, addiction, aneurisms, AIDS, cancer of course, and God knows what else. We did honor and mourn them, which made it even more necessary to celebrate that we were still here and that we shared a common upbringing, history, and memories, even though marriages, careers, and wanderlust have scattered us.
A couple of other Facebook friends have recently posted about their high school reunions. One went to Texas for his in a wheelchair, having lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle accident. Another attended hers in New York this fall, a recent cancer survivor. So how dare I boo-hoo about a broken wrist and flabby upper arms?
We are not our physical shortcomings, diseases or disabilities. Doesn’t the way we carry ourselves in the face of adversity say so much more about us? How about the way we keep moving forward even when it’s the last thing we want to do? And what about the way we support and encourage others when they are in need or despair? Don’t those things say more about us than any human-made measurements of attractiveness, capability and success?
There will always be someone who is younger, fitter, richer, prettier, healthier, more successful, better at tennis, and the owner of a vacation home. But sheesh! We’re still alive. We’re still here. We are who we are. We come as we are. No apologies necessary.
There’s a biblical quote that says to give thanks in all things. I know. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to gag in the midst of hardship. I have to say though, I’m feeling grateful that the cast, the shiner, even the hip surgery—if not the flabby arms—have given me an opportunity to reflect on what really makes me who I am. Because it’s none of those things, and sometimes I need to be reminded of that.