This morning was one of those grey-white, mizzly days. Warm, and not quite raining, but the sun seemed to have decided to stay in bed, wrapped up in the snuggly folds of duvet-clouds.
I, on the other hand, was fizzing with energy (rare, and not-to-be-wasted), even after a shower. So after breakfast, we decided to go for a walk. The clouds were a bit greyer by then, and I didn’t want to get caught in a second shower, so we headed for our favourite patch of jungly bush, the monkey forest.
There’s three things that make for an ideal walk in our book – creatures, bridges, and beautiful surroundings. Today we had all three. When we got out of the car, there were a few chooks clucking around. As soon as they saw us, they got in line like a bunch of schoolchildren, and followed us through the car-park to the edge of the bush.
I’ve always loved bridges. Maybe it’s because of that sense of excitement and possibility I got from crossing bridges as a child – you never know what’s on the other side. Or that sense of delicious fear – maybe there really was a troll underneath. Bridges always made a great playground – Pooh Sticks, and Pirate ships. Gym equipment – I never managed to walk across on the handrail because my balance is crap, but it was always fun trying. And bridges with get-attable struts underneath were great for swinging across a river like a monkey.
These days, we still play Pooh sticks – even if we don’t have the grandchildren with us. We’ll always stop and have a look at the view from a bridge. And we might even have got into the habit of stopping for a kiss on every bridge we cross.
I’m not sure the bridges in the monkey forest really count as bridges – just a few planks across a drainage culvert, but they are long enough for the two of us to stand in the middle for that kiss, so that’s good enough for me.
Today, I didn’t need my walking stick. That’s always a bonus, because it’s always nice to have both hands free to take photos, or to point out creatures, or to stroke my husband’s back when we have a kiss on the bridge.
But I should probably add ‘walking stick’ to my list of things that make an ideal walk.
Because even though I hated having to use one when it first become necessary, I’ve come to realise that a walking stick is like a bridge. They’re both designed to help make people’s lives easier. One helps you walk across a river without getting your feet wet, the other to walk along a river without getting your hips dislocated.
My walking stick is a symbol of freedom. Scrub that, it’s not just a symbol, it’s a tool. It’s not a badge of disability, it’s a tool that lets me do the things I want to do.
Like last week… we wanted a walk along the river near us (a walk stuffed full of bridges, views and creatures). It was a fabulous spring day, and with all the trees in blossom, flowers blooming on the banks, and fluffy balls of ducklings bobbing around on the water below the bridge, the river-path is one of the nicest walks around. But when I got out of the car, my hip slipped out of its socket.
It didn’t hurt, and walking is actually one of the best ways of helping it go back into place, but walking is a challenge when you hip is flobolling around like a rag-doll. So out came the stick and off we went for our walk.
It’s hard sometimes, making the necessary adjustments to a life with long-term disability or illness. It feels like a loss, when you’ve always been able to walk and run and climb and swing as free as kids pretending to be monkeys under a bridge but then your body decides not to work that way any more. It feels like a failure to need a walking stick, or a wheelchair, or a feeding cup, or a disabled parking placard, or whatever other tools you need to live your life.
We all use tools to make our lives easier. A pen is a tool, or a screwdriver or a car. They all give us the capacity to do something our bodies can’t, or to do it better, faster, stronger. I’d never felt a failure using a pen to write down a story instead of memorising it. Or for using a screwdriver to tighten a loose screw because it does the job better than twisting it with my fingers. Or for jumping in a car to drive 8 km to work each morning.
It might hurt when people shout out words like cripple or hopalong or whatever narrow-minded, judgemental drivel that spills out of their mouths. No matter what that stupid childhood rhyme says – sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me – words can and do harm.
But if we consider all the tools people use in everyday life – cutlery, toothbrushes, zips, phones, shopping trolleys, scales, computers, lawn mowers, buttons… you’ll get a very long and wide-ranging list. Why should anyone feel a failure because their list includes a few extra items?
And as for the name calling? Words can be diffused or transformed, and losses can be turned into gains.
After our walk, I came across a wonderful performance poet on Twitter this afternoon. She totally gets the power of diffusion and transformation. She replaces the word disabled with stick-abled.
Stick-abled. That diffuses the unkindness of being called a cripple, and/or the negative emotional impact of needing a walking stick. And it celebrates and embraces the walking stick for the freedom it gives us.
I call that a success. Gimme my walking stick, I’m gonna have a happy dance.