Christian reflections

So Apparently I’m Old Now, and Other Lessons in Empathy

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Photo by Nino Liverani on Unsplash

A couple of years ago Daryl got the news that he has the knees of a 60-year-old. He took it hard (no 30-something wants to hear that, particularly one who played lots of competitive sports). I didn’t really understand the depth of his frustration until now.

Knees of a 60-year-old? Meet the ankle of a 70-year-old. My right ankle, to be exact.

I’ll spare you the long boring story of misdiagnosed sprains, crutches, limping, and too many weeks in an orthopedic boot.

But then the diagnosis came: arthritis.

Come again?

I broke it back in high school playing soccer (“Try out for sports!” they said. “Sports keep you healthy!” they said.) After surgery it healed well. So well that it was as good as new for nearly two decades. I ran a marathon and a half in there, a 10k and a couple of 5s. I discovered that running kept me sane in stressful seasons, and grew to love the trails near our home.

But all of a sudden, after long days on my feet, I started wake up with what looked like an ankle sprain. Red, puffy, too painful to walk on. X-rays and physical therapy and an MRI.

“The good news is, you don’t need surgery,” the doctor told me. He’s only a year older than I am. “The bad news is, you have post-traumatic injury arthritis. Your cartilage is wearing down, and it’ll get worse the more high-impact activities you do. If you want to play soccer with your boys, you’ll probably have to stop running to preserve it.”

Tears welled in my eyes. Stop… running?

“I know,” he said, handing me a tissue. “I get it. Believe it or not, I broke the same ankle years ago and had the same type of surgery. I ran a marathon on it, but now it has arthritis. I used to make fun of the people on the elliptical machines, but now that’s what I do for exercise.”

Sigh.

In the past few months, Daryl and I switched positions on a number of things. He was finishing his dissertation; now I’m the one writing (a book! yay!). He got bad news about his old knees; now I’m the one hearing about my decrepit ankle. I took the bulk of the kid-care off his plate in the early mornings so he could focus on his writing; now he’s the one flipping pancakes. In the dance of our marriage, we’re doing a do-si-do.

If learning empathy is walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, God seems determined to teach it to us.

I fully expect to get old and have aches and pains. I just didn’t expect to have one part of my body feel so old so soon.

Yet as I look around our community, our congregation, even our little family, I realize that health is a gift, not a given. The mom across the street has six kids and her arm in a sling. The man in our congregation comes faithfully to worship with a walker. Our staff prays regularly for those in our midst battling Parkinson’s, cancer, heart problems, and strokes. Not to mention countless friends who have unseen struggles–autoimmune disorders, diabetes, Lyme’s, Lupus, MS, chronic pain. We’re all falling apart a little bit.

It’s enough to make a person long for the resurrection.

Perhaps that might even be the point.

 

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