They say you should never go back to the thing that broke you. But what if what broke you is something that also makes you whole? What if it’s something that’s actually good for you—and one of the few things that makes you free, alive, and unlimited? Does its benefit outweigh the fear of failure in going back to it? And what if I told you that, instead of being broken, it was through your own carelessness that you had broken yourself? What then? Do you learn from that and try again? Or do you limit yourself with excuses about why you were destined to fail in the first place, and then spend a lifetime of longing for something that makes you happy to be yourself?
Not a single one of these thoughts went through my head a few weeks ago as I laced up my skates at Ingalls rink. Instead, I wondered if my skates were sharp enough for the ice because I hadn’t skated since January—January 30th, to be exact. That was the day I fell and dislocated my elbow coming off the Olympic oval in Lake Placid. I was simply moving too fast as I exited the rink onto a snowy path. Call it skater error. Call it a foreshadowing of 2016. Either way, I went up, up, up—and then down, with my left elbow bearing the full force of impact.
As physically painful as that experience was, what most upset me was that it prohibited me from skating for a long time. Skating brings me unparalleled joy, and I missed the ice in the weeks and months that followed my injury. I couldn’t even do yoga during that time, since the torn ligaments and tendons of my left arm couldn’t support any weight. I was, however, cleared to run. So, two weeks after my fall, I resumed a long-abandoned running routine and embraced a newfound freedom and lightness in it. I’m grateful for that. It may not have happened had I not injured myself. In fact, I run so much now that my body craves it if I miss more than a couple of days of my usual neighborhood route. I now run an average of about four and a half miles each time I head out, and I’m slowly—oh, so slowly!—working toward running a 10K, followed at some point by a half marathon.
Still, I missed skating. And after 10 months, several physical therapy appointments, and a hefty dose of humility, I was ready to get back out there. Nevermind that it was the Yale Youth Hockey family skate night and that I would be lapped by hotshot hockey players. I wanted to skate. I needed to skate. And the only person who could make that happen was me.
I’d be lying if I said wasn’t scared, though. I simply did not want to get hurt again. I had hoped to borrow one of my son’s elbow pads, but it reeked so badly of Hockey Smell that I passed on it. Instead, I placed faith in myself. Rather than trust everyone else around me to be safe, I trusted my own skills and balance. Hardly foolproof, of course. And I still need to get an elbow pad for myself. But at the time it was my only option. I wanted to get back on the horse and ride it. My injury was the kind of thing that would prevent many 40-somethings from ever going on the ice again. I wanted more than that. I enjoy skating too much. Someday, God willing, I’m going to be an old lady. And that old lady is still going to be teaching, writing, and doing yoga. She will still go to college hockey games on the weekends, still run 5ks, and still enjoy the occasional open skate at Ingalls. But I had to take the first step.
The ice was packed with middle school boys racing each other and showing off spray stops. Even some older, yet boyish coaches dominated the rink with their competitive antics. A few younger children looked like Fred Flintstone out there, legs rapidly moving while stuck in one spot. Parents hunched, skating backward while holding the hands of toddlers who complained of the cold. In the midst of this, with my husband having disappeared into the crowd far ahead of me, I stepped onto the ice. After several unsure and cautious steps, I found my stride. I was home.
I spent 45 minutes on the ice before taking off my skates. Wiping away snow from the blades with my pink terrycloth skateguards, I was proud of myself for having followed my heart back out there. It was more than worth it, and I can’t wait to skate again. Now the only thing standing between me and some sweet ice time is all this work and hockey mom business.
Maybe my fall on the ice at the start of the year wasn’t all that bad. In fact, I’m looking back at 2016 and thinking (crazy at it seems) that maybe it wasn’t the worst year ever. Lots of great things happened this year. My older son was accepted to an amazing high school, where he is happy and doing well; my younger son is excelling and happy in every corner of his life. I landed a new and fantastic job with great colleagues and amazing students. What’s bad about any of that?
The concept of a bad year versus a good year is just a function of our human desire to categorize everything. And while so many people—including me--have valid reasons to believe this year sucked (four personal losses, Bowie, Trump, Aleppo, to name a few) there is so much good to be savored. There is great beauty in the small moments. In pink moons heavy over horizons at sunrise. In birds lightly steadying themselves on branches. In the warm arms of sleepy children and the sprawling wit of gangly teenagers. In the crisp smell of tomato plants and the earthy promise of salty beach sand. There is truth and timelessness in love and forgiveness and in the steady gaze of someone who truly wants to be present with us. There is a whole world in need of us to live from the heart and trust others with it if we are ever to heal from anything. But first, we need to trust ourselves with this privilege and stop fearing our own vulnerability. We need to stop listening to the voices so eager to tell us all the limits of who we are and instead embrace the spirit of who we want to become.
Lace 'em up!