Following her footsteps
“They’re sure going to be excited,” she says.
“Who?” I ask.
“My friends at school.”
She is fishing. She loves to lure me in with a vague statement that begs a question. I take the bait.
“Why do you think they’re going to be excited?”
“To see me walking.”
And then it dawns on me. She was absent much of the last school year due to surgery on her legs and then a lengthy recovery. The school thought it best for her to take lessons at home rather than risk injury when both her legs were immobile in non-walking casts. By the time she was up on her legs again the school year was over.
So, she’s absolutely right. I bet her friends and her teachers will be excited. If their reaction to her progress is anything like ours, they will be astonished.
This afternoon, Jordan and I had brunch together. We walked to a restaurant a couple of blocks away. The girl moves purposefully; swiftly. Before surgery, a walk like this one would have been so laborious it would have been impractical. Today, it was just another walk. In the past, I would have had to hold on to her gait belt and steady her on many near stumbles and falls. Today, holding her hand lightly was more than enough support. She has better balance, better movement, a better life.
Last night, as she draped her legs over the arm of the couch in perfect teenage form, I spied the bottoms of her feet. They were once scrawny—skin too close to bone, completely absent of muscle. Doctors liberally used the word “deformed.” Now her feet are plump and full of flesh. They have plenty of battle scars, but they look healthy.
She is rightfully proud of her progress. A cheshire grin stretches across her face whenever someone compliments her. She imagines all the things she will do now that she has her legs back. Her new goal is to ride a bike.
She will turn 18 in less than two weeks. As much as it shocks me that she will no longer be a child in the eyes of the law, I have to admit that she has been deftly straddling the threshold of adulthood for several years now. While in some ways she is preserved in a childlike state of relentless hope and optimism, she rules her life with more strength and determination than most adults I know.
This reality has been on my mind as I have weathered through a rough couple of months. I’ve been a moody and irritating presence to my colleagues, family and friends—prone to feeling sorry for myself and feeling defeated. When I claw out of this pathetic haze it is usually after spending time with Jordan.
I am in awe of her.
She is walking again.
To be completely honest, I had resigned myself to the possibility that she might rely on the wheelchair for the rest of her life. But Jordan had other plans and she did not allow herself to get lost in self pity. She led us to a drive with new doctors and a new outlook on her case. She insisted upon the surgery—even when Jeanette and I were not sure it was a good idea and doctors advised that it would be painful. She patiently persevered through a lengthy and tedious recovery. She never shied away from the really hard work of rehab. And she has taken every chance to use her legs because she knows the more she walks, the more she walks.
Of course her friends at school are going to be excited. If they aren’t, she’ll be sure to go fishing again and lead them to the reason why they should be. It is much more important, however, that she is excited by her accomplishments and her potential. Fortunately for me, her excitement is infectious and the example she sets is instructive.