Losing A Step

[Oval Hole in New Orleans Sidewalk, January, 2017]

I fell yesterday—on a shoveled-bare, brick and asphalt sidewalk maintained by Harvard University. Because of the icy sidewalks all over Somerville and Cambridge yesterday, I’d been wearing YakTrax; one coiled wire had apparently got caught in a gap between two sidewalk bricks and down I went! (Or so I assume. It all happened so fast.)

Two kind young men, a guy who’d been driving past in an Eversource van and a uniformed member of the Harvard University Police Department, instantly materialized and helped me to my feet.  “Do you require medical attention?” the HUPD guy asked. “Is anything broken?”

“I think I’m okay,” I answered, already a little weepy. And hobbled home. An ice pack on my bunged-up right knee and under two quilts, I was still emotional. “I feel old,” I confessed to my husband.

Or, as Kathryn Schulz made clear in her recent, brilliant New Yorker essay, “Losing Streak: Reflections on two seasons of loss,” I lost something. In my case, I’d lost the pre-fall me’s confidence that with the right foul weather gear, the proper equipment, I could walk without incident; no problem. (Such insouciance! Such taking-for-granted! Such ingratitude!)

But, as Schulz points out, losing is what we do.  “Loss is a kind of external conscience, urging us to make better use of our finite days.” Finite, indeed. I am definitely feeling that “finity” right now. And, oh, how precious!

Today, when I needed to mail some letters, as if preparing to scale a small mountain, I added a new piece of equipment to my gear: a walking stick. Gingerly, cautiously, still bruised and achy, I walked a half-block on a shoveled-to-the-concrete sidewalk and crossed the street to the mailbox. (Thanks, neighbors!) Crossing the street again, with the light, I heard a car behind me wanting to make a left turn—exactly where I was slowly walking. But instead of impatiently honking, I swear, because I was leaning on a sturdy branch I’d used on a real hike on a real, small mountain last summer, that driver waited. Patiently.

That I’d announced to that driver my need for extra care reminds me of one of my favorite poems; I’m also sharing it in honor of those two kind young men.

  Title Poem— by Rainer Maria Rilke

It’s OK for the rich and the lucky to keep still,

no one wants to know about them anyway.

But those in need have to step forward,

have to say: I am blind,

or: I’m about to go blind,

or: nothing is going well with me,

or: I have a child who is sick,

or: right there I’m sort of glued together. . .

And probably that doesn’t do anything either.

They have to sing, if they didn’t sing, everyone
would walk past, as if they were fences or trees.

That’s where you can hear good singing.

People really are strange: they prefer
to hear castratos in boychoirs.

But God himself comes and stays a long time
when the world of half-people start to bore him.

(translated by Robert Bly)

Join the Conversation


  1. Dear Patricia,

    Well, hi, there, Patricia, my so, so very For Always dearly special and awesomely precious soul sisterfriend Christian Quaker woman who you’re For Always so, so very much!!!! Wow, as I read your beautiful words in your so, so very dear reply with the other awesome blog post article my very heart and spirit leapt for such joy, sisterfriend!!!! Sister, I am so, so very grateful for YOU in my life, Patricia, and I thank God continually for YOU, my so, so very dearest and darling friend!!!!!:)!!!!! Wow!!!! Yay for YOU, Patricia!!!! Yay for our friendship and sisterhood, Patricia!!!!! Yay!!!!! YOU are my very joy and blessing, Patricia!!!!! Yay!!!!! Sister, what a very insightful and powerful blog post article this is here of yours, my sisterfriend! I am praying so, so very hard for you as I do anyway in general, sister, and I’m praying for your terrible ouchie with falling with your accident and hurting your right knee. I pray so hard and so much that you receive great comfort and healing with your dear right knee and that the pain decreases and goes all away, sisterfriend!!!! Sister, some local sisterfriends told me to try buying YakTrax to wear to keep me from falling but I haven’t bought them yet. I don’t get to walking around that much due to my very many physical disabilities so I didn’t yet buy them yet and I need to save the money to buy them. My local sisterfriends say that they are very helpful. I must keep trying to be more mobile, though. I won’t give up, Patricia. Usually I walk with my walker wheel rollator which has a bench on it that I can sit on when I feel too tired and too much in chronic pain to keep on walking, and underneath the bench there is a basket where I can keep and put things in. The walker wheel rollator folds up when I am not using it so that it can go into a car when people pick me up to take me to church, other places, and on errands, sister. I try to walk with my two canes when I can but it is more difficult walking with the two canes and more painful, my friend, so I mainly use the walker wheel rollator to get around inside of my apartment and when I leave the apartment. Thank Spirit we have an elevator in our building since I”m on the second floor. In an emergency like with a fire I am still able to albeit slowly make it down the stairway to escape so it’s good for me to still sometimes to build up my strength and endurance to use my two canes. I’m so happy that the two nice young men and the HUPD person were there to help you, Patricia! What great and blessed timing for sure! Sister, I know what you mean about loss!!!! I can so relate, my so, so very dear friend!!!! I’m mourning the loss of my mobility and my ability to walk around freely on my own the way I used to be when I was a lot younger. I think that there is still a part of me where it hasn’t completely sunk in that I am even more physically disabled in multiple ways over these many years as I have become older in my middle-aged. I think that these physical disabilities were probably coming along for me even when I was a lot younger because I did have some slighter issues when I was in my late teens and in my twenties so something was probably starting to go wrong even then, sisterfriend. Even from what dreams that I have that I’m able to remember I am walking on my own power and not physically disabled, even sometimes running in my dreams, my so, so very precious friend and sister, Patricia. Sister, I just so, so very much love, enjoy, and appreciate your great and powerful sharing about how it is for you and your very process of growing older. Wow, this is so, so very interesting and I love reading about your great sharing here, sister!!!!! Patricia, I’ve started to think about more often regarding my own mortality although it still seems far off but I’ve been thinking to myself that I’m about to turn 55 on Wednesday and I’m getting farther along in being middle-age, and like, Patricia, I know that my next stage of life will be coming next with me being elderly-like that stage of my life is getting closer and closer even though it is still far off but just a little bit. I’ve been thinking, Patricia, well, wow, I’ll be 60 in a little over five years and in ten years I’ll be 65, then 70, then 80, and even though it still seems a far away off it feels closer than it did when I wasn’t middle-aged, Patricia.

    Sister, I just loved the very astute article by Kathryn Schulz! Wow, I couldn’t put it down, sisterfriend, and I read this very fine and excellent article straight through.Wow, what a brilliant woman and article here!!!! I love that Kathryn Schulz shares being from the Cleveland, Ohio area with me-this was so, so very cool to read about this!!!!! I loved her mention of the Cleveland Museum of Art and of the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic. I mourned along with her and as her dear dad would have if he had still been alive about how our Cleveland Indians lost the World Series last fall to the Chicago Cubs. Wow, I so loved her references to the Cleveland, Ohio area, Patricia! This stupendous woman and writer is just very full of such astute and acute sagacity, Patricia! When she so profoundly wrote, “Now, obliged to carry onward through time, I realized I didn’t know how,” my very heart hurt because I could so relate to her and her grief and I could connect to that very same feeling of being in limbo, in being in a no man’s land with my own grief which I’ve experienced, faced, and endured in my own life, Patricia. She wrote with such beautifully descriptive clarity which helped me to have an even better perspective about losses in my own life and how to think on that and to have the very impetus to continue further about thinking about the grander scheme of life, my so, so very dearest and darling friend, Patricia. Sister, I thank-YOU for how you have as usual as always included this marvelous link to our Kathryn Schulz’s very empowering article, and for your other great link with the splendid advertisement for the YakTrax. Sister, you as usual as always come up with some very super, interesting, informative, and fascinating links which you very graciously and generously feature with your very fine and excellent blog post articles! Thank-you so, sister!!! The picture here with your very spectacular blog post article is very perfect and telling here complementing and adding to your great writing for certain, Patricia. Sister, I thank-you as well for including and featuring this very true-to-life poem by Rainer Maria Rilke with the very helpful translation by Robert Bly. What a powerful poem here. These very realistic words in this superbly super poem make me think of how sometimes when we need people to reach out to us when we are in need that people don’t always reach out to us, perhaps not knowing that we are in need, and that sometimes we as people even being in need have to take that strong extra step in reaching out to others and letting them know that we are in need. I so, so very much love, like, enjoy, and appreciate this very deeply spiritual poem here, my friend!!!!! And as usual as always in life and in the end, like the end of this fine poem, God is For Always there, Patricia!!!! Wow!!!!! I thank-you so, so very much for including and featuring this very astounding, such great food for thought poem here, Patricia!!!!! Wow!!!!!

    Sister, I For Always pray for and think of you sending to you such great positive energy keeping you covered in general with my very heartfelt, daily, and frequent thought and prayers sending to you such strong positive energy. I continue to pray that you find a publisher and an agent for your great new book entitled, Welling Up, and I plan to buy it as soon as it is hot off of the presses, Patricia!!!!! I pray for and think of daily and very frequently your so, so very dearest and darling husband, for your Loved One in the long-term care facility, for your awesome children, for your so, so very precious grand-children, for your siblings and all of the rest of your special and beloved family, for your blessedly pure in heart friendsfamily at your Friends Meeting at Cambridge,and for all of your other friends, too!!!! What a blessing and such a joyous honor and pleasure it is for me to pray for YOU, Patricia, and for each and every one of you as I pray without ceasing, and it is just so, so very fun for me as well, sister!!!!! I love praying in intercessory prayers for YOU, sisterfriend, and for other people!!!!! I can just feel all of your prayers thoughts love, and concern for me also which are truly helping me and blessing me!!!!! I thank-YOU, Patricia, and I thank-you all straight from the very bottom of my heart from the deepest depths of my very heart and spirit!!!!! Yay!!!!!

    Sister, now I feel even better and brighter with even more cheer after very joyfully reading this uplifting and interesting blog post article and joyously responding with my very heartfelt, detailed, and thorough thoughts, ideas, and comments, sisterfriend!!!! My friend, I am even more re-energized, reinvigorated, renewed, and rejuvenated, dear, dear Patricia!!!!! You help me so with my very walk with Jesus and in my very life, sister!!!!! Wow!!!!! Yay!!!!! Thank-YOU, so!!!!! Spirit so, so very much loves and cherishes YOU, Patricia, and so do I!!!!! Oh, Patricia, I’m just so, so very grateful to have YOU in my life and I thank God continually for YOU, my friend!!!!! Yay!!!!!!!

    Very Warmly and Sincerely For Always, my so, so very For Always awesomely special and dearly precious soul sisterfriend Christian Quaker white woman who you’re For Always so, so very much, Patricia, with My and Spirit’s Peace and Love For You For Always, sister of mine, and with Such Blessings and Such Very Even More Blessings For You For Always, friend of mine,

    Yours For Always soul sisterfriend Christian black woman and For Always in the very great spirit of unity and solidarity, Sherry Gordon in Iowa City, Iowa

  2. I’m so glad to hear you didn’t break anything and that you’ve got the courage to 1) still go out and 2) to write about this. We/I missed you at yoga and expect to see you back soon so you can gently heal with us around you. I admire your beautiful courage to express what so many of us feel as we carefully maneuver around the ice and snow, hoping not to fall, and recognizing how our bodies are aging. I send you thoughts of health and healing. And love! -sandy

  3. Wonderful, Patricia. I hear you singing — such good singing! — in this essay. But there’s plenty of gratitude there, too. You’re achy, but not broken, glued together quite well, and young-old-young-old, like people are.

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