By Wendy Hodge
Last year, I went zip-lining with two friends, the three of us eager to do something challenging. “Don’t do it!” our families said. “You’re too old for that kind of stuff.” They were wrong, of course. We’re never too old for something new, for an adventure, for crossing something off our bucket list. Despite predictions that we’d regret it, we were determined to prove ourselves. We climbed and struggled our way through a tree-top obstacle course and soared between the trees and across the lake, feeling invincible and sharing laughs and smiles, knowing we were accomplishing more than a 2-hour adventure. We were affirming the fact that we are very much alive, that we have not lost that part of ourselves that cries out for the wind in our face and the danger of earth slipping away from under our feet. For all our responsibilities, we are, at our very core, unfettered…untied to this world.
What my two friends did not know was that at the beginning of the course, on the short and low training zip-line, I failed to brake properly and struck the landing tree full force. My foot bent backwards, and I felt something give. The pure adrenaline at the prospect of what we were about to do kept me from realizing just how badly I had hurt myself. Only after the course was done and we were celebrating and reliving the morning over sandwiches and tea, did I finally acknowledge this was more than a sprain.
Because we were inside a state park, security had to be called, reports had to be filed, and statements taken. I understood all that. But when EMTs arrived, complete with a stretcher and a back brace, I felt the need to insist that I truly was okay. “I work for a podiatrist, fellas,” I implored. “Ah, sweet irony,” the paramedic I’d been silently referring to as Bubba surprised me by replying.
Eventually I did get back to my office, and there I sat with x-rays in hand, white shadows of bone spelling out my carelessness and bad luck. The doctor I worked for (and who is rarely serious) took great delight in being able to say, “I told you so.” He took one look and made his pronouncement – broken.
Broken… not a pleasant word. We all want shiny and new, perfect and whole. No one wants broken. Lots of things break every day – delicate gold chains, promises, wedding china, bonds of friendship, teeth, waves, dawn, bones (zip-lining or not), pie crusts, fever, machines, news, and hearts of all ages. We lament these breaks. We try to fix these imperfections. We search high and low for the “perfect” and the “whole.”
But stop a moment and look at the beautiful imperfect that surrounds us all. Picture someone you love. No matter how beautiful they may be, there is a flaw, an asymmetry perhaps, some slight quirk that you’ve gazed upon countless times. Isn’t it that scattering of freckles, that tilt of the nose, or the small scar on the arm that endears that person to you that much more? It’s what our hands reach out to touch. It’s a familiar and dear landmark that makes that person uniquely them, uniquely ours.
The September I turned 13, feeling every bit of my brand new teenage status, I met Susan. She was new to our town, new to my life. We stood there in our bare feet and summer skirts, oblivious to the fact that this was a landmark moment for us both. She was destined to be my best friend for years to come, and I knew it the moment I saw the birthmark shaped like Africa on her lower leg… just like mine. She spotted it, too, and we were a matched set in every way from that moment on. Of all the memories I have of that best friend, that shared imperfection is the first that comes to mind and is dear to my heart.
My life, like everybody’s, has had only moments of perfection… glimpses of shiny and new. On the whole, it is an imperfect mess, populated by beautiful broken people, filled with mistakes and lost opportunities, second and third chances, grief and laughter, pain and bliss. But from where I sit this morning, on the balcony of my favorite downtown restaurant, with the time-worn streets and refurbished but aged buildings filled with fall decorations, the unseasonably bright sun in my eyes, my broken foot propped next to me, and Nora Jones’s raspy voice caressing the air, with my friend’s laughter still ringing up from the sidewalk from the night before, and the day stretched ahead of me full of contentment and that feeling of being exactly where I should, “perfect” is right here. It’s in the bricks and windows, the people and the stories of my town. It’s not shiny and new, but it is lovely and precious… Broken, but whole.