Several years ago, late in the summer, I noticed a lone Canada Goose swimming on the lake. She had spent the earlier part of the summer as part of a group with a pair of Canada Geese and their babies -- sort of like an auntie -- involved, but a little on the periphery. As the summer progressed, the babies grew so that they were barely distinguishable from the adults. Flying lessons ensued. By mid-August, the pair and their babies were gone, but the auntie remained. While paddling in a kayak one day, I looked at her more closely and realized her right wing hung a bit lower than the left and at an awkward angle. A day later I spotted her as she waddled onto shore and tried to beat her wings in the air. The right wing didn’t unfold all the way and it had an unnatural bend and some missing feathers. I realized she couldn’t fly. I called the local wildlife rehabber who said she would try to come and capture the goose, but couldn’t promise anything. There was a lot of shoreline, and if the goose wanted to evade her she could. I left the lake at the end of the summer not knowing what became of the lone goose with the broken wing.
I’ve been thinking about that goose this week as I watch the Olympic Games in Rio. I watched as Simone Biles defied the limits of human exertion and gravity to go higher and turn more rotations than anyone else, all by her own inertia. I marveled at Michael Phelps’ chiseled body and severe gaze in concentration, just prior to winning his 23rd Olympic Gold medal. Beautiful bodies at peak performance.
All those young, perfect bodies made me reminisce about my own glory days, when my body was strong and could perform almost any feat I asked of it. I could set out on a 6 mile hike without a second thought. I could bird, on foot, for 12 hours straight. I walked for exercise and fun. I miss the days when walking and standing were not uncomfortable. The pain came on suddenly as a result of another bout with Lymes disease this past winter. This time, my doctors are calling it “chronic” Lymes, which is a gloomy form of the illness. There no great treatment options and a generally lousy prognosis. After multiple rounds of both oral and IV antibiotics, eight weeks of rehab, adding supplements and drastically changing my diet, I’m trying to get back to “normal.” I hover around 70% of peak performance, with rare but welcomed surges to 75% on my best days. This may well be the new “normal.”
If you look hard enough, there are good things inherent in every challenge. Lymes Disease has taught me just how fleeting one's health can be and that we dare not take it for granted. I have new eyes to see people limping around the grocery store or driving electric carts up and down the aisles. Shopping trips are marathons of exertion. I see healthy, able-bodied people walking or jogging in the park, and I envy them that they’re not aware of every step. I see people in wheelchairs who make the extra effort to get out and enjoy normal activities able-bodied people don’t think twice about: going to a concert, eating in a restaurant, enjoying rides at an amusement park, getting in and out of a car with ease.
It’s a well-known fact: we don’t live forever. When we’re young and healthy we deny this fact. But bodies age. If we live long enough and don’t die by accident or catastrophic disease, at some point parts of our bodies begin to break down.
I’ve been moaning and groaning a lot about Lymes disease and my damaged knees. But I’ve also been pushing myself, unwilling to admit this may be the new normal. I’ve been consumed with my diminished physical capacity. Maybe the goose had a better approach. She just kept living, one day at a time. She was not concerned for the future and had no regrets for the past. She was not bitterly sentimental and did not dissolve into a quivering heap of tears at the sadness of it all. Without assigning blame and without feeling sorry for herself, she kept doing what she had to do. She went on her way, resolute on being a goose.