{Irruption}: an invasion of birds in unusual places

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Pink shoes

Pink shoes

If a runner falls in the road and no one is around to hear her, does she make a sound? Does swearing count as sound? Ear porn for anyone listening? Recently, as I cruised along at my slow ten-minute-per-mile pace, I tripped on road debris and fell hard. I have a photograph of my right knee to prove it. My left hamstring and adjoining gluteus maximus are now speaking in tongues every time I sit down, stand up, squat, or stretch. I am tired of straddling the white throne as if it is a temperamental old horse just so I can do my business. Despite the ugly knee, the pain in the butt (and elsewhere), all I can think about is running, which is obviously something I should not do until I heal. I am a very impatient person.

I was out for a short 3.5 miler, and I needed to work off my massively sore car butt. After five days on the road that included stops in Peoria, Illinois, to visit my uncle in the hospital, stopping in Olathe, Kansas, to visit friends, and continuing on to Eureka, Kansas, to visit another uncle before turning the old car around and heading for home, I needed to stretch my legs and clear my head. The only real exercise I had within that time frame was a walk in Kansas with my friend Gretchen where the wind blew so hard that I wondered if we might actually be blown into Missouri.

Back home, I headed out on one of my usual routes around Higgins Lake. Sunny skies, 20 degree temps, and my “Summer Run” playlist on my iPod® provided me a sense of calm and relief. I glanced to my right towards a hill I had run up during the summer, but decided I needed to get my hill-legs back before tackling it again. As my head swiveled back towards the road, my left pink running shoe found a groove in the rough pavement and stuck. My upper body propelled itself forwards. My left hamstring pulled itself into an unnatural braking system that failed miserably. My upper body kept going. My arms became turbine-like, speeding up as if an out-of-control windmill. I was “Freefalling” as Tom Petty famously sings, but my landing would not be similar to the one depicted by the skateboarder in the music video. I reached out with my gloved hands and fell onto my right knee before the rest of my body slammed into the road.

November at Higgins Lake is a quiet and peaceful time. Spring, summer, and fall vacationers are nowhere to be found. Locals are at work or inside their homes keeping snug by the fire. Ducks outnumber people. Deer, always facing you with that startled look, turn and run back into the woods upon your approach, but turkeys give you the evil eye before forcing you to turn and run into the woods. On this day, the only witness to my folly was a pileated woodpecker who continued to amuse himself about thirty feet up in a dead birch tree. I yanked out my ear buds, and I listened to him laugh at me.

I sat on the pavement for a few minutes wondering if I could even get up. I was mad. There were no cars on the road in either direction. I finally figured out that if I rolled towards my left side, I could perhaps pull myself up. This painful move involved a lot more swearing. I noticed that my favorite running pants were torn where my knee had hit the asphalt. My gloves had tiny bits of gravel buried in them. I reached for my cell phone in my Armpocket® and thought about calling my husband to rescue me. I realized I was only a mile from home. Damn it! I would walk if it killed me. I tapped the icon for MapMyRun® and switched the app from running to walking. I did not want to miss out on the rest of my workout.

I started hobbling along the road, and about an eighth of a mile from where I had tripped the light fantastic, or something like that, a man walked out of his driveway and headed down the road away from me. I eventually caught up with him. He looked surprised as I passed him. “You came up fast,” he said. Was he being ironic? Sarcastic? An asshole? Or was he just some old guy who had not seen my tumbling routine in the middle of the road. I wondered if it was too early for a beer.

After an excruciating mile of limping home, I opened the door and walked into my house. I must have looked worse than I felt. As my husband looked at me, the concern on his face obvious, I said, “I’m hurt,” as I pointed at my ass. I then pulled up my torn pant leg to discover I was bleeding. I had wondered why my knee felt so warm. As I pulled the torn material off of my injured knee, I felt the material rip the skin off of my leg. I almost passed out, as I began swearing in an even louder voice than I had used on the road. After counting the imaginary stars in the ceiling, I grabbed my cell phone, turned off my mileage app, poked the camera app, and snapped a selfie of my knee. It was time to update my Facebook status.



I walked around for a while and tried to avoid the inevitable: I knew I was going to have to clean my bloody knee. I stripped down and entered the shower. Later, Jim said he could hear me in the other room as I swore and moaned when the water hit the wound. I managed to clean out the gunk, apply an antibiotic ointment, and wrap it all in some pretty gauze. Something oozed through the gauze in a pale-ale color. Even though it was twenty degrees outside, I put on a pair of shorts. I could not find a chair to sit in that my ass didn’t hurt and my hamstring didn’t screech like some sad violinist on Quaaludes. Freefalling…not.

Two days later, I told the nurse I was a bit sore as I climbed up onto the bed that would soon be slid into the open MRI for my two-year checkup. It was hard to believe that it had been two years since my Grand Mal Seizure during a road race and a freefall I have no memory of. I do remember surreal voices whispering “brain tumor” as friends and family circled my hospital bed. Weeks later, I had Gamma Knife surgery and imagined the radiation killing off the ugly thing that affects language, memory, and emotion. Months passed. My dog died. My father died. Other people I knew and cared about died, and I began to feel caught inside a spiral of death and despair, and yet my family and friends were there to catch me, forcing me to stand up, to get over myself. Deal with it. I began freefalling into a world of unconditional love and support. Faith. Mercy.

One week after my two-year MRI, I watched a bald eagle soar high above me before it started its graceful and pure freefall towards the lake as it swooped down to catch a fish. I ran inside to grab my camera. The eagle was too fast for me, and I missed the shot of it flying almost straight towards me before veering off and landing softly on a branch of a barren maple tree some two-hundred feet away. The eagle began the work of eating the fish. I watched through a kaleidoscope of trees, seemingly hundreds of arms and legs protecting the eagle from voyeurs or predators. After the freefall comes sustenance. Patience brings its greatest rewards.

When did you last show empathy towards another human being? Is being empathetic something you practice on a daily basis? Are you sensitive to the suffering of others? Sounds simple, right? I always thought so. However, I have begun to realize that the conscious desire to be an empathetic person is not something everyone has. Or, perhaps, some people just lack their empathy bone.

I guess most people know where their funny bone is located. The long bone of the upper arm is known as the humerus, and when one pronounces the word, it sounds just like humorous. Hence, the funny bone. So if most people know where their funny bone is located, I wonder if people know where their empathy bone is located. Probably not. As far as I know, we don’t actually have an empathy “bone” since it is a cerebral entity, but we should not have to bang our heads or elbows in desperation to discover that we might actually be sensitive to another person’s pain and suffering. Should we? When is the last time you felt empathy for someone? What was it like? When is the last time you dealt with someone who clearly had no empathy bone? Did you crack that person over the head with your funny bone? Well, if the person I am writing about had been sitting in the same room with me, I would have smacked her with my humerus, and it would not have been humorous.

During an online discussion about creative writing, a friend of mine wrote about a student breaking down in class. Then, FBG (Facebook Gal) suggested that in creative writing classes (and I am guessing elsewhere in life), “adults have bigger demons, less innocence, and bigger panties,” and thus should be able to deal with criticism and not cry in class or anywhere else for that matter. I, along with others, pointed out that perhaps the student was just going through a tough time or having a bad day, and the age of a person should not dictate how many demons one has or how much innocence (or lack thereof) one has.

FBG then informed folks participating in the tremulous thread of conversation that she worked in a hospital, and she attempted to suggest her previous comments were about someone in high school and not a “full grown woman.” Following that, FBG tried to clarify who had the right to cry in public: “Having cancer is having a bad day, and [she] hardly ever see[s] them cry about it.” These are the following two posts:

Me: “Yes, FBG, having cancer sucks. I happen to have a brain tumor, and I can tell you about having a bad day. If you don’t see me crying, it doesn’t mean I don’t cry in private. I am a full-grown woman (whatever that means) if that makes any difference.”

FBG: “I’m not going to argue with a woman with a brain tumor, but I am curious as to why my comments are received [sic] color coated like skittles by all the other commentators. Hey I used a simile!” She followed her last comment with a smiley face.

Well, shiver me empathetic timbers! I told my husband that if I am ever in a hospital where this woman works to make sure she stays far away from me. I wouldn’t care if she showed up with fifty smiley faces, and she was writing similes by the dozen.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on one’s point of view, my friend who posed the original question, decided to delete the post and all comments. Luckily I had printed off the post and the comments, because I wanted to reread the comments at my own leisure and try to make sense of how the conversation had taken such a weird turn. I should have remembered something my mother taught me years ago: “Don’t get into a pissing match with a skunk, because the skunk always wins, and you will come out stinky.” My idea for an updated version of this analogy would be this: “Don’t get into a pissing match with a complete stranger on Facebook, because that person always wins, because you stop responding in disgust.” But in all actuality, that person doesn’t really win the argument when he or she decides to deride the conversation by demonstrating a clear lack of an empathy bone.

Now perhaps FBG is really a nice person, and she just had a bad day on FB. Perhaps she does have an empathy bone. She does, after all, work at a hospital. I wish I knew which hospital it is, since it is a hospital where cancer patients don’t cry in front of her. I would have welcomed this scenario when I spent so many years in numerous hospitals and nursing homes when my parents were dying or when my daughter lay dying in the hospital.

Perhaps my empathy bone is overdeveloped. After all, I am a “full grown woman,” and “I’ve got bigger demons and less innocence.” It certainly is true that I have “big girl panties.” But I think my empathy bone started gaining strength after years of sitting in my office at work, and either reading student journals or listening to students who have suffered abuse at home; or young women who have been raped; or young men who have been beaten by their fathers for years; or students whose parents are going through a divorce and it is just killing them; or students whose parents or brothers or sisters are dying of cancer. And, yes, a great many of these students cried, and I cried along with them. Why are we so afraid of tears? Aren’t tears the lubricant for one’s empathy bone?

I want to thank FBG for making me think about ways in which I can be more empathetic to others. I am working on ways to be kinder to others every day—and am working on the notion that someone might be having a bad day if he or she tries to run over me when I am out running. Sometimes I can feel my middle finger start to rise in protest, and I want to shout the word “asshole,” but I am working on those nasty past behaviors of mine.

FBG also taught me a lesson: Not everyone is going to cut me any slack just because I have a brain tumor. In other words, I need to keep my big girl panties on at all times and deal with my demons. If someone wants to make a simile out of my misfortune, well, that is his or her right. A smiley face is optional.