Thursday, May 29, 2003

Slowest Common Denominator

When was the last time you took a bath? A nice long luxurious bath?

Who has the time? We’re all too busy, running from this place to the next. Over-achieving to make an extra buck. Trying to raise the kids.

A quick shower, maybe a bit longer just before Shabbat. But no, that would be wasting and, despite the strong rains this winter, there’s still a shortage of water in Israel.

But I’ve been forced to take baths. To slow down and smell the soap bubbles. And you know what? It’s amazing.

That’s just one of the many surprising side benefits that have come as a result of breaking my ankle a few weeks back. Indeed, breaking my ankle may have been one of the best things to ever happen to me.

Now, I’ve been working from home, so it’s not like it’s been party time from noon to midnight. There are plenty of reports to write and conference calls to sit in on.

But I have also had the opportunity to relax in the hammock we have set up on our terrace and leisurely examine the sunset. To sleep when I'm tired. To spend a whole lot more time with the kids than when I was commuting daily to and from Tel Aviv. To have family lunches and dinners and story time.

And of course, there’s no need to wear pants.

After a few weeks of this, I can’t but help ask myself: have I been living my life the way I should? The way I could? What kind of toll has getting home every night at 9 or 10 PM had on me? On my family?

It’s truly amazing how we can fall into a rut and not even know it. We do the same things day in and day out. We interact in the same good (and bad) ways with our colleagues and family. We even eat the same food without ever realizing how bored we are with it (I’m talking about the cafeteria fare at work, not Jody’s cooking, OK?)

Life is too short, too precious. We in Israel know that so well. But the economy…it’s not like there’s any choice out there, right? You should be happy with what you’ve got. Hold on tight because the alternatives are all worse.

But are they? I’ve been working quite productively from home, thank you. Probably more productively than I was in the office where there are constant interruptions and meetings that could have taken place just as easily over the phone…or email. And I’ve worked at home before in other jobs in the past too.

Adapting, making the best of what initially seemed a bleak situation is one of the things my broken ankle has taught me. My work has only been one of the situations I’ve had to contend with.

For example, there’s exercise. It’s an important part of my daily routine. But aerobics are kind of out of the question now. So I shifted to what Jody calls “body sculpting” (we “he-men” call it what it is: “lifting weights”).

Except I don’t have any weights. So I got a couple of two-liter bottles of mineral water bottles and started doing bicep curls with them.

Combined with eating less (again, no cafeteria with an endless supply available every day), I’ve actually lost weight. Go figure.

Sex, too, can fall into regular patterns. Without going into details, let’s just say that someone should write the “Kama Sutra for the Temporarily Disabled.”

Maybe it will be me.

Beyond my own little world, though, my broken ankle has given me a new perspective on others with disabilities. This being Israel, I thought not so much of people born with limited mobility but of people who have had physical abilities they took for granted all their lives snatched away unexpectedly.

I thought of the growing number of terror victims and, in particular, those who are reported on the news as being in “moderate” or “stable” condition. Those who are now having to re-learn how to walk, how to write with the other hand, how to see with one eye.

And I thought of my father.

My father, who was stricken with polio at 17. A good looking, athletic kid who loved playing soccer. He fought back, recovered, and has been able to lead a remarkably normal life. But he’s always moved slowly. Carefully. The strength he had was simply not there anymore.

I remember as a child always being so annoyed that we couldn’t get places faster. That we had to move at the slowest common denominator. I wonder if my own kids are frustrated when they get stuck behind me on the stairs as I clomp down one step at a time. Can they too learn something too from my broken ankle? Something that will help them feel more compassion for the differently-abled among us?

I broke a bone in my foot once before, when I was in college. But I didn’t have the patience to appreciate all of this then. I was in too much of a hurry. To get to class. To get better. But I’m not 20 anymore.

The other day, a friend told us a harrowing story. He was in the Golan Heights on a tiyul many years ago and had gotten lost, separated form his group. He wandered into a field and didn’t notice the sign: Danger of Mines. Keep Out. It happened so quickly, he said. The boom was so loud. Both his feet needed to be amputated. But here he was, telling us the story. He’d adapted. He was still walking, however slowly and surely.

My God, what an inspiration.

It’s time for my bath. I could relate to this all as a great big pain. First, I have to wrap my leg in double plastic bags, then secure a rubber band to the top to make sure no water seeps in. It takes a lot of coordination to lower myself into the tub without falling.

But no, this is a gift. A change of pace. A moment of grace. It won’t last forever, and too soon I’ll have to go back to quick showers, commuting, in-person meetings that should have been phone calls, and restricted quality time with my family.

Or maybe not.

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