Monday, May 12, 2003

Ankles and Hearts

The irony has not been lost on me.

It was the day when I published what has turned out to be one of my most popular columns – the one called “Running the Land.” I went out for my morning run as usual, feeling particularly pumped up.

I was in an area where there’s a very narrow path. The path winds through a nicely landscaped area with rocks and flowers. Friends of ours were out on their bikes for family tiyul. Not wanting to run right into them, I took a gentle swerve to slide gracefully out of their way. I called out something cute like “Hey, quit hogging the sidewalk you guys!”

I didn’t see the drop-off of the pavement into the rock garden.

But I did hear the crack.

It came from somewhere inside. And before I could stop myself, my ankle splayed out in an erratic movement entirely incompatible with running. I fell, hands and knees forward, practically crashing into the littlest one’s bike.

Lying there sprawled on the ground, not yet feeling the pain, my mind switched into paranoid panic mode.

First thought: I’ll never run again. And:

This is it. I’ll be crippled for life.

But then I thought about my last fracture, some twenty years ago in college. I had been DJ'ing in the college disco and had put on a hardcore punk single I was sure no one would dance to. When they did, I got so excited, I leaped from the DJ booth...and landed the wrong way. I had a cast for close to two months.

Truth be told, my biggest problem then was showering. I couldn’t get the cast wet. And there were no tubs in my dorm. I had to use the one in the housemother’s apartment. I’d knock on the door at night and ask timidly “Is this a good time.” I probably only bathed twice a week. No wonder I never had a girlfriend in college.

But I got over it. My ankle healed then and it would heal this time too.

And it could have been worse, Jody reminded me. What if it happened just prior to our summer vacation to the States. Or during the trip.

“It’s probably just a sprain,” said Dr. Levitt at the Family Medical Center. Another comforting voice in the wilderness of my mind. “Yes, I’m sure of it. But let’s take an X-Ray anyway. Just in case.”

20 minutes later: “Well, I’ll be darned.”


“It’s a fracture, all right. You’re going to need to see a specialist.”

By the end of the day, my entire lower right leg and foot, down to the toes was encased in a shiny new cast.

“Can we draw on it?” Merav asked immediately upon seeing me resting on the couch, remote in one hand.

“No, honey,” I replied. “They gave me this new plastic cast. You can get it wet but you can’t decorate it.”

“What’s the fun of that?” Merav puffed, then whirled out to go over to her friend Sarah’s house to play.

Aviv took stock of the situation and offered his own five-year-old consolation.

“Don’t worry, Abba,” he said. “It will pass and you’ll be able to run again.”

“Thank you Aviv.” I said in response to his always earnest approach to life. “Thank you so much.”

“And if you forget," he added, "Ask me and I’ll tell you again.”

And then he promptly marched downstairs to kick a ball around in the courtyard.

Now alone in front of the TV, with my ankle throbbing and despite my better instincts, negative thoughts crept back in. Maybe the orthopedist put the cast on wrong. Maybe I’d be one of the tiny percentage of patients who didn’t heal properly.

“Try to keep things in perspective,” Jody said.

And then, as if to emphasize the point in the most dramatic way possible, she added “Oh, I talked to Linda Bennett finally. She’s coming for Shabbat lunch.”


Linda Bennett is Marla’s mother. She had arrived in Israel two nights earlier for a week-long national UJA mission. It was her first time here since Marla was murdered last July.

One thing was for certain, I wasn’t going to get any sympathy about my ankle from Linda.

And if I did, I sure wasn’t going to accept it.

As Shabbat lunch unfolded, my now profoundly mundane cares were eclipsed by the pain we shared together. There were a few tears. But many more happy reminisces. And a surprising reserve of inner strength that I would have thought impossible in such circumstances. I barely thought about my ankle at all.

But as Linda was leaving, I did think about the difference between broken ankles and broken hearts.

Ankles heal. They’re may end up a little weaker after a fall, but the bones nearly always come back together. It passes.

Broken hearts, on the other hand, ironically can grow stronger than they were before following a tragedy. But they never heal.

As we hugged goodbye, I thought quietly to myself: we should all be so lucky as to have the privilege of breaking an ankle every now and then.

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