You Feel Good, and Other Lessons from a Month with No Leg

I had my knee crushed about six weeks ago.  Tomorrow I go see if the doctor will let me try walking again,  so we will shortly enter a new phase of life, and before we do, I want to tell you some things I learned about you while I couldn’t walk.

Yep.  Stuff I learned about you.  Because, see, I was you a while ago, and I haven’t been for some time now, so I can see the contrast.  I had an out-of-your-body experience, which I shall now tell you about.

1. You feel good.  No, wait.  You feel fantastic.  You do not realize this, because you think you have aches and pains and an upset stomach.  But the truth is, you feel absolutely incredibly well.  Please try some experiments with me, and you will know I am right.

First, bend one of your knees.  Either one.  See how it does that?  How all the muscles and tendons and ligaments do the thing they do and the lower leg moves toward the upper leg almost by magic?  See how that does not hurt?

Now bend an elbow.  Wiggle your fingers.  Breathe in and out.  Smile.  Frown.  Stick out your tongue.  Tap your foot.  None of these things hurt.  You can do them over and over and it works, every single time, painlessly.

Stand up.  WALK.  See how that goes?  Do you have any idea how impossible it is that you can do this?  You’re balancing an entire person on two little tiny platforms, and moving that person around, and yet the tower of person above does not fall over.  And again, please note, it does not hurt.

Without in any way minimizing the fact that some of you actually DO hurt when you do some of these things, by far and away the vast majority of you do not.  The truth is not that you have a bellyache or a hangnail.  The truth is that you feel so bleeping great you can’t even process it because you would be constantly laughing for joy.  Which also, let me point out, does not hurt.

2. You have acres of free time.  You do.  I know, again, you’re thinking to yourself that you’re busy, and maybe you are, but that’s easily remedied.  You really have acres and acres of time, so much time you can’t, seriously, fill all of it.  You will try.  I know you.  You will even reach moments when you think you have done it, but you haven’t, and you never will.

I know this because I have acres of free time.  Yes, I do.  Yes, with my eight children and my three businesses and my writing and speaking and teaching and my three choirs and all the messy rest, I have so much free time I have a hard time figuring how to justify to my God the wasting of it.

24 hours is a gigantic, incredible amount of time.  You get one set every rotation of the earth (give or take, science geeks).  Every rotation.  You cannot possibly fill it all, even if you sleep a lot (and again, I know this from recent experimentation).

If you want proof, break your leg in a major way.  What happens is this: all your life gets emptied out in a pile on the floor in front of the chair you have to sit in because otherwise your rib gets dislocated and you can’t breathe, which is a serious problem for both 1 and 2 above.  That’s what happens.  As if your life were a box of cereal and it was all in this neat container and now it’s in a pile on the floor, mixed together like the pink hearts and yellow moons and khaki filler bits of Lucky Charms.

Sublesson A: You do not really know what bits are what.  Some of the things you thought were the marshmallow treats turn out to be filler bits, and vice-versa.  When they’re in a pile before you, inert, waiting for you to pick them up and put them back in the box, you find that you don’t know which to start with.

Sublesson B: When you put them back, all the ones you actually need to, there will still be a gigantic pile of them on the floor that you realize you don’t know why they were ever in the box.  And that sentence is not English, and yet you understood exactly what I said.  See how incredibly great you feel?

As impossible as you are going to tell me this is, the fact is that you can do this without having to have your tibial plateau crushed.  You can, in fact, pour your entire life onto the floor and only pick up the bits you really want to.

Sublesson C: Almost none of the bits will realize that you dumped them.  You think far, far too much of yourself.  You’re so ridiculously not important to pretty much everything that if you wished, you could give yourself a complex, but you won’t do that, because you left that bit on the floor.

Sublesson D: SOME of the bits really need you, and they are not the bits you think.  Here’s the fun part: they will let you know which bits they are.  You don’t have to worry about it.

Back to the main point.  When you have an empty schedule, you can fill it with nothing.  Nothing is a very useful thing to fill your schedule with, and I recommend it.  For me, it was forced, because my entire schedule, routine, everything right down to where I put my wallet and how I pray to God was based on mobility.  So I stopped everything.  My schedule was blank.  What I added back was only what I had to, and not even all of that, because I couldn’t do even what I was sure was absolutely critical.

I was wrong about almost everything.  So now I can sit at my kitchen table and write this blog post and not stress about it, because I have had it demonstrated to me that I don’t know a thing about what is and is not critical.

There turned out to be so much time in my super-busy life that once I added back all the bits I really liked eating, and all the bits that were important and couldn’t live without me, I found that I could still sit for hours and contemplate the summer sun.  You can too.

3. You can do what you want.  Yes, you can.  This is belabored over and over in the blogosphere, but most people don’t mean it the way I mean it, so just a couple points of clarification.

You cannot do everything you want, and you cannot do what is impossible, and there are impossible things, regardless of what you hear.  That said, you can choose to do what you most want.  You are not constrained.  I will take you through a personal example so that you can see what I mean.

I want to write.  Writing does not pay me a lot yet.  I have eight children and a wife I expect to be canonized any day now, and they need food and clothing.  Therefore I do not want to write all the time, because I want to feed my family more.  See?  Contrariwise, I do not want to do mortgages for the rest of my life.  One, because it’s not that enjoyable, and two because the government makes it daily less and less enjoyable, and one day soon will make it impossible for people like me.  However, I want to feed my family, so I continue to do mortgages, and I will as long as what I want lines up like that.  But not one minute longer.

Here’s the kicker: I probably could make a lot more money doing mortgages, in the short, medium, and long term, than I can writing.  But I don’t want to do that many mortgages.  The marginal benefit of that money beyond the just-over-subsistence level is almost zero. I now refuse to chase clients I don’t personally like (or who don’t like me).  Almost all of my work is with people I know, and people they know, that I can build a relationship with that makes both of our lives better, with the mortgage as a side-effect.  In other words, I do what I want, but at different points on the time and money spectrum, what I want changes.  It does for you, too.

Sublesson A: You’re doing much more of the work you don’t like than you have to.  You’re worrying a lot more about the money you might leave on the table than the life you’re not putting on it.  You do not need all the stuff you have.  You would be happier if you traded it for more time to do what you really want to.

Sublesson B: You do not know what you really want to do.  Yes, Lorri, I hear you.  YOU do.  I get that.  But you, all you other people, you don’t.  You really don’t.

Two days before the knee incident, my wife asked me what I really wanted to do, using the “if you had a million dollars in cash, what would you do?” scenario.  I struggled with that.  I hadn’t actually looked up from what I thought I had to do long enough to see if a) I still really had to do it and b) I still wanted to.  38 hours later I got to find out, because I could only pick just a couple things to do every day.  We did not starve.  I found that 80% of the things I was doing were not just soul-crushing, but totally failing to produce the things I was doing them for.  I was doing neither what I ought, nor what I liked, with apologies to Screwtape.

I was a hymn-singing, Bible-loving, Rotary-going small businessman who was living the dream, and I actually did not know what the heck I really wanted to do.  I had to reverse-engineer from what I wanted to be, to what I had to do to become that.  There are lots of techniques.  Pick one and use it.  You’ll find it uncomfortable at first, because those are muscles you haven’t used, sometimes since you were a kid.  You may find, as I did, that for DAYS you say things like “I can’t believe this.  I don’t actually know what I want.”  My have-to had essentially crushed the air out of my want-to.  I had to re-inflate it.  But it will re-inflate, if you give it time, and you’ll learn interesting things when it does.

So rejoice, my friend.  You feel great.  You have tons of free time.  And you can do with it what you want.  What else, really, do you need?

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One Response to You Feel Good, and Other Lessons from a Month with No Leg

  1. Beverly Ray says:

    I don’t know if I would have believed this until a similar thing happened to me. Thankfully it wasn’t my knee. It was just one of my fingers that was smashed and cut bad enough for surgery. But do you realize how much you use your index finger on your dominant hand? As I am resting from surgery, I now think of what to put back on my schedule. Chris is right, except as a Mom there is an abundance of family things that have to be done whether or not I feel like doing them.

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