The Sometimes Long Search for Meaning
Ten years ago I broke my leg. I was walking in a park in LA with friends and dogs at high noon. It was fire season. A few minutes down the path a group of elderly women were having an al fresco painting class. How lovely I thought - being a painter myself I have a soft spot for anyone who picks up a brush. As we passed an unattended pile of oil paints and paper towels sitting in the hot sun I noticed a subtle change in the air above it, the look of intense heat gathering. I instinctively responded: grabbing the paper towels that were beginning to smolder, I turned to throw them in the creek and tripped over my cocker spaniel, Sophia.
Down I went.
I heard the bone snap as I hit the path.
The elderly women flocked around me with water and concern.
You can imagine the rest.
A few days later, after the initial shock and pain wore off and dreading months of compromised mobility, I looked around for someone to blame. I tried blaming Sophia but that only worked for an hour. It felt mean to blame the elderly amatuer painters, so I ended up with myself. I have always been a klutz, hence...guilty as charged! Then I spent the next few weeks replaying the accident - my mind refusing to accept the fact that this has already happened and there is nothing I can do about it - talk about being forced to be in the present with your body!
Anyone who has ever sported a cast knows it acts like a magnet for the inevitable question of “What Happened?” so I had plenty of opportunity to tell my story, always ending with “I don’t know if I prevented a fire.” Some people commiserated, while others opined darkly, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Hence I bounced back and forth between getting sympathy to feeling like a jerk for breaking my leg for no reason. What I didn’t get at the time was that my ”I don’t know” was a cry from the heart, a search for meaning.
Four months later (after much acupuncture!!! yes it helped!!!) I finally returned to the park. Taking one crutch for safety I slowly walked the path. As I got to the end of the loop an older man with grey hair and kind eyes was talking to Sophia. We chatted for a bit about the weather and the drought and then he asked if I was hurt - gesturing toward my crutch. I was just about to say I was at the end of a broken leg rehab and leave it at that but the fact that we were in the very park where the accident happened compelled me to tell the whole story, ending with the inevitable tag line - “I don’t know if I prevented a fire.” He didn’t say anything for a moment - always the sign of a good listener - and then he said in a voice wise with years of thinking about such things, “It doesn’t matter whether you prevented a fire or not. What matters is that it was your intent.” Wow. A light bulb flickered on … so it wasn’t a klutzy fall or a stupid accident. It was an act with a pure and noble intent.
Then he thanked me “for society” and laughed as he caught himself representing society, but what he meant was that he knew how special the park was to everyone who came there, and what a loss it would be if it was gone. As we said good-bye I thanked him for being such a good listener. He said, “That’s what I do for a living. I listen.” What an amazing stroke of luck to cross paths with a wise elder/therapist! Someone whose daily practice is listening, paying attention to the smallest detail, the thin thread that connects one thing to another in a way that can reveal something deep and true and profound about yourself that you can’t quite see ...
As I walked away I felt something straighten in me. I could now appreciate my action. I had respect for myself. The man with the kind eyes who knew how to listen gave me a gift that day. He connected the thread from the broken bone in my body to the intention in my heart which turned on a neon sign in my mind of understanding. My act had been acknowledged, and appreciated, and seen, not only by him, but also by me, in the purity of its intent.
As you can imagine, that was the last time I told that story. I had literally come full circle. I returned to the place where the accident happened and found something small and delicate and worth its weight in gold. In one magical and powerful moment of conversation my story of “I don’t know” became one of transformation and revelation.
~ Megan Rose