I went to my orthopedic surgeon today to follow up on my shoulder surgery from January. Shoulder's fine, range of motion and strength are far better than anticipated, and the one tiny motion that still hurts is on the mend. But I mentioned the knee he replaced last July. Last time I fell (those who know me well are aware that I fall fairly often, just, you know, to make sure gravity is still functioning as it should and all's right with the natural world), my kneecap looked wrong. It didn't hurt (much), but it still looks out of place two weeks later. X-rays today showed that I tore a ligament and that displaced the knee cap. I get to wear a brace for six weeks and see if holding it in place will allow the tissue to regenerate and heal. If not, another surgery. That's OK -- I really like my surgeon.
The point is, I'm pretty tough. Most people would say I have a strong character, or resilience, or some equally flattering non-specific attribute that means I can take a punch. I fall down a lot, though, and my physical strength is about 20% of what it was 10 years ago. My attitude gets me a long way, but I can't call myself strong anymore. I have to be selective about what I take on, rest more, ask for help constantly, and rely on the strength of my husband and kids -- literally, because when I fall, I can't get up by myself.
We humans like to put things in categories. We like to assign people to tribes or ethnic groups or geographical areas. We like to decide who we think is attractive or smart or successful or trouble-on-wheels. We are wrong more often than right, but that doesn't stop us. I was listening to citizens of Harney County today, talking about how the recent illegal occupation was difficult and uncomfortable, but it got everybody talking, and they're starting to find common ground and solve problems together. Relationships are healing and growing because they were challenged. Much like weight training, wherein you break down a little muscle tissue each session, and then rest and allow it to grow back stronger than before, we as a society become stronger through our challenges. Remember how everyone pulled together after 9/11? We poured money into the Red Cross and New York, we got patriotic, we hugged our children and called our parents and were reminded how much we have and how precious it is. We grew stronger.
As usual, I'll take you back now to the people on the street -- the drug addicts, the alcoholics, the petty criminals, the rehabilitated convicts who can't get jobs, the disabled, the mentally ill, the prostitutes, the displaced veterans. If we stop categorizing people for a few minutes and think about the horrors some of these people have lived through, we have to recognize that they have acquired a certain strength that we'll never know. Those who survive so much pain and loss and hatred and poverty are warriors. They're far tougher than most of us will ever have to be. We are so quick to label them as lazy or useless or taking advantage of the system that we rarely stop to learn someone's story.
Out of the hundred of disadvantaged people I've met and talked with, about 2% were doing just fine and taking advantage of a free meal because why not. And they were welcome, because a free meal can only offer a smidgen of dignity if it is shared with everyone, no questions asked, just because we are all people together, because we survive by relating and caring and learning from one another. I admit that I silently pass judgement on those who are taking when they could be giving, but it's not my job to judge or reform them. My job is only to care -- the easiest job, because once you have a real conversation with someone, you cannot help but find common ground, feel empathy, gain understanding.
Only through breaking can we grow. Only through reaching out can we understand. Only through caring can we heal.