I greeted Wednesday, September 11, 2013 with much anticipation — my first piano lesson with a new professor. Ever since first grade, fall and school and new beginnings energize me. I parked my car several blocks away and walked across campus to the music building. At my lesson I played the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 18 with minimal nervousness — a huge milestone for me. As I returned to my car, I was thinking about the good things I wanted to tell my friends and children about my lesson. And I planned to enjoy coffee at the tiny cafe I had passed earlier.
Before the coffee house, my foot caught on a steel construction plate across the sidewalk. I heard bones break on my way down. As I sat on the sidewalk waiting for the ambulance I remembered the party I was having Saturday night — a party for twenty friends and family to celebrate my recent move to Knoxville. The plans were complete, the food was purchased, and prep had begun. The party had consumed most of my thoughts and time in recent days. Now it could not happen.
Sometime during my first days home from the hospital, I realized it didn’t matter what plans I had on my calendar or how much I wanted to explore my new city. I had a broken ankle.
For six weeks, I could put no weight on my ankle. I hopped on one leg with a walker, used a knee scooter, went to physical therapy several times a week, and depended on friends for groceries, medicines, doctor trips, and a myriad of other things. The surgeon said healing would be slow. I was hoping to hobble on two legs by Christmas.
My challenge became “how do I have a meaningful life with a broken ankle?”
Every day I set a goal for myself, starting with the tiniest accomplishment: making my coffee or getting a dinner from the freezer to the microwave to the table or taking my dirty clothes to the washing machine. I had to relearn everything. I continually created ways to regain my independence and celebrated every accomplishment with a phone call to a friend.
A bush of happy orange flowers outside my patio doors brightened every day.
Eventually, I made it all the way to my piano, propped my leg on an overturned wastebasket, and began to play. The arrangement was awkward but I could make music again. Once my activities of daily living became easier, I could write using my laptop on a lap desk.
Three months passed before I could resume my life, though at a slower pace. Slower is a good thing, allowing thought and intentionality in my life. I no longer multi-task. If I’m walking, I walk. If I’m on the phone, I do nothing else. If I am talking with a friend, I am present with her.
Breaking an ankle was not my plan. Not on September 11. Not ever. But life is like that.
Children get sick, rain changes our picnic plans, cars break down, a friend needs help. These things become excuses for not pursuing our passion. We hear ourselves saying, “if only…if only…” or “when this changes…or when that changes…” or “as soon as I complete whatever, then I will…”
If you want to write, if you want to paint, if you want to make music, you can’t wait until someday when your life is less hectic, when the children are gone, when the house is organized, when you have more money. Even if that day comes, something else will stand in your way. Wishful thinking is not action.
Carve out bits of time, here and there, in the midst of your life, to pursue your passion. One hundred words a day creates one third of a novel in a year. One postcard-sized sketch a week is a sizable collection by year’s end. Thirty minutes a day is enough to learn new music — every week it gets better. Little efforts matter.
Find the small times in your life. Then show up and do your work.
Until next Tuesday…