The train is pulling into the next station, Nick Drake is playing through my little earbud headphones and the air conditioning is cocooning me from the heat that is, once again, building outside. As I look out the window I see a crystal blue sky, peppered with clouds on the eastern horizon, searingly blue and uninterrupted to the west. The landscape is showing all the signs of having suffered under the unrelenting sun; grass browned and no longer growing, trees unadapted to the Australian climate wilting, eucalypts dropping leaves, spreading leaf litter and bark on the ground, all perfect conditions for fire to take hold.
Some paddocks have no fodder at all, flocks of sheep huddle in one corner, looking to graze, looking for relief and shade. Others have tall, brown stems of grass waving in the gentle wind. The gentle wind will be our friend today, although it is hot and the landscape is ready to burn the lack of wind to carry it will mean any fires that start today should be relatively easy to contain.
I’m going to my acupuncturist again, maybe for the last time in relation to this dodgy back of mine. As the weeks have progressed, especially since my angst-ridden, catastrophy-focused post of 2nd January, there has been both slow and sudden improvement. I can walk up the mildly steep hill from my work to the station without resorting to a stiff robot walk to compensate for the pains shooting down my legs. I can sleep on both sides of my body and on my back and the pain is no worse in any position. I can sit for periods long enough to complete some work before the pain niggles me to move, stretch, find relief. I’m noticing ebbs and flows in the intensity of the pain. Sometimes it’s not even there at all.
I hope these are all signs that my compressed disc is retreating back to its allocated position in my spine. I long for the days I remember of carefree body use; of reaching, of bending, of squatting, of standing, without thought of how I could do it without pain or without tiring like a baby just learning to walk. I want to leap out of bed and take my long-suffering dogs for a walk filled with smells and excitement. I need to restore my body’s confidence and strength, regain my sense of self through being able to exercise (a little), realign my view of me with the actual me.
This little bout of illness, disability, call it what you will, has served to make me more tolerant of my own foibles and more empathic with people who continue to live with chronic illness, constant pain and disability. Before, in my robust health and with only my youth to guide me, I was sympathetic and considerate to strangers and acquaintances but less tolerant of my own illnesses (usually brief) or my then partner’s illness (definitely chronic). I knew, intellectually, that her needs were real and valid but I railed against her illness, tried to cajole it away, refused to see that some good days couldn’t stop the bad days, expected a stoicism of her that I thought I possessed.
Hah! How little I knew of me. With age does wisdom come? No. It’s experience where we find wisdom. Age only gives us a chance to have the experience, whatever that may be, that can lead to self-knowing, forgiveness, wisdom; we might have a chance to compare our older self with our younger self and quail at the insouciance we exhibited.
I hope this is just an episode in my life, a chapter that I can read again and again and continue to grow from. I don’t want it to be the whole novel from now until the end. Others live with that knowledge about their own lives, that the novel is about them and their illness or disability, and their courage and stoicism is extraordinary and ordinary at the same time. I hope that I can have their strength and on the other hand I hope I never need it.