One-Armed Lessons


Dragging myself to the pool again. I knew I needed it, but the effort, the cold often difficult to surmount. The urgency to be under the water triumphed, the calling to clear my head overtook the pull to remain warm at home. I shared the lane with a friend of mine, her forearms wrapped in tape. We discussed the tendinitis, the painful inflammation, the difficulty to slow and allow others to accomplish the tasks with which she has measured her productivity, her value. We commiserated over learning lessons we would never choose to learn, and about how God teaches us and it is not at all fun.

Our separate workouts commenced. I completed most of my warm up but balked at the kick portion. After managing half of the prescribed distance, puttering without power, I whined to her of my hatred of kicking. I was done.

The man in the adjacent lane minded his business, in fact there was nothing about him revealing anything unusual, aside from a wheelchair perched at pool’s edge. My friend and I chatted at the wall with female fervor, oblivious to his presence, soon resuming our backs and forths.

On a brief rest between sets I glanced over at our septuagenarian neighbor with utter incredulity.  As the man hoisted himself onto the pool platform, I took inventory of his limbs. One arm. That’s it. One arm. One arm to get out of the chair and into the water. One arm to propel his torso multiple lengths. One arm to achieve the amazing feat of pulling himself back up and out and into his chair.

After the swim, in the locker room, you can imagine our exchange, my friend and I. Recalling our conversation from the pool, we chuckled with amazement and uttered words about perspective and reality and fortune and blessing. We had been called out.

Perspective is always welcome and needs to be heeded, but we are not off the hook, devoid of responsibility when we become privy to another’s desperate suffering that exceeds our own. The luxury to cease traveling our road is not afforded us, just because someone else’s road is more treacherous or tragic. Our work is imperative. We all have different narratives and different worlds to impact with our hard-earned wisdom and understanding.

I used to (and still do, although less frequent) own a powerful struggle against my body, employing multiple diets, and excessive exercise to combat a poor and defunct body image. My days defined more by failure than success, the grip of self-hatred clutching me in a relentless grasp. Beat up, bruised and depressed, I was miserable.  My life, my being, preoccupied by the scale’s diagnosis that morning, by the fit of my jeans or the dimpling of my skin. Peace now holds the majority vote, but not without great intention and surrender and boatloads of grace and tender mercy with hefty doses of self-love.

Time after time I underestimated the trial, saying things that were not helpful to me, things that minimized and condemned and harmed the imperceptible, incremental progress. Until I found the ability to contend with the fundamentals of my worth, my entitlement to love and grace, forward movement was in number alone, in my body but not in the foundations of my being. Until I did this work, accepting the whole of who I am, I had nothing to offer another beyond calorie counts and fat grams and meal plans.

Doing the work, surrendering to grace taught me – about God, about others, about myself. Doing the work opened my eyes to wholeness and emotional health, to maturity. This I can impart, this allows me to listen and understand, humbled and hopeful for another.

I am convinced we all have our shit. This statement is not to render discouragement,  this just is, we all have something. Mine had everything to do with worth and expectations and proving. I am also convinced we are all offered a path to freedom.

Grateful for the hard-earned wisdom, I consider my struggle an opportunity to engage in the essential work of gaining empathy and compassion. My issue or suffering was not on par with this gentleman. I will not claim this, but I do believe all of our suffering is redeemed and used. It is our work to do the work that lies before us, to honor the challenge by choosing the challenge, to seek the help and the helpers to be our guides.

The one-armed man’s face was all smiles, emerging from the water, crawling into his chair, chatting it up with his lifeguard buddy. His life, his form not a tragedy. His body a testament to true wholeness. He is not my perspective, not on that day, nor any, but I will remember his kind face, his determination and commitment to health.

AND, I have come to terms with kicking. While I still despise the activity, I will never, never, never complain while kicking in the pool again.



photo credit: <a href=”″>D80_20-020sooc2500K</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a>