I’m not usually big on humility. I figure life gives us plenty of opportunities to feel humble without actually cultivating that quality of mind. I’ve often been humbled in the past when confronted by situations out of my control, when all I could do was stand by helplessly and observe the unfolding of sometimes very unpleasant events. For me, feelings of humility are more often than not brought on by situations where I am helpless, prevented from acting in one way or another or immobilized by a physical condition. One great example in my past of being immobilized, and humbled by it, was when I had a disk removed in my lumbar region many years ago. I had had an ‘accident’ in a lumber mill and was left close to immobilized with a severe injury to my back. I was off work for a year because of it. As an active, eager young man, being subjected to the immobility brought on by my back surgery and lots of time in bed was humbling to say the least. My vulnerability as a person and as a man was plain to see. I was definitely humbled by it. Lying in my bed for days on end, I was in no position to exercise hubris of any kind. It was hard not to feel diminished by the situation. Over the years I’ve had other similar experiences.
In 2002 I was diagnosed with kidney cell cancer and had my left kidney removed in a complex, delicate surgical procedure that left me with a 36 centimetre scar running around my left ribcage, front to back and chronic pain ever since. We had just bought an acre of property which needed a great deal of work and here I was unable to do anything physical. Carolyn was left to do all the work that needed to be done around the place and look after me too. That was humbling and sometimes humiliating. Of course I had no intention of getting cancer. I have no idea how I got cancer. It could have come from poor personal dietary decisions or who knows what. So, I couldn’t be blamed for my immobility. Still, being a conscious, sentient male of the species unable to move a great deal was humbling anyways. Getting cancer and being immobilized by it highlighted in no uncertain terms my animal vulnerability.
A few days ago, while working on a building project at home I had occasion again to feel my animal vulnerability, this time more acutely than in the past. I’m 67 years old but in quite good physical condition. Carolyn and I walk the dog on average 45 kilometres a week. We average around 10 minutes per kilometre. That’s a pretty good pace. Along with that we regularly exercise in our little gym at home and with a trainer. I’m pretty fit. I’m able to do things. I can lift heavy rocks for landscaping projects and work long hours in the shop or on various construction jobs. That all came to an end last Thursday evening when I slipped on a loose board and crashed to the ground landing on another board in the process right on the exact location of my 2002 cancer surgery and the chronic pain its given me ever since. Off to the emergency ward we went. After a couple of hours of investigation, the hospital staff determined that I had not broken any ribs and that I should just go home and let it heal. Well, that’s easier said than done. I don’t have a lot of pain until I move, then the pain level shoots up to a 10 or higher. I really can’t do much. I can sit and type this as long as I keep my arms as still as possible but every once in a while without warning I get overwhelmed with a paroxysm of pain that threatens to leave me groaning and writhing uncontrollably on the floor. Carolyn is required to do most of what I used to do for myself. Thankfully, my family is here to help too. My daughters and granddaughters have been great and my son-in-law is pitching in to move our deck building project along. Still, I feel helpless and stupid for my carelessness. It’s humbling to say the least to be immobilized and incapable of looking after myself and contributing to the many projects we have going to keep our home running smoothly. I’ve always been careful around my shop tools and on the various construction projects we’ve undertaken around here…and, although I’ve injured myself now and again because of lack of care and attention, this last little bit of carelessness is costing me dearly. It’s taken away my mobility, the very condition that we define as life. I hope it doesn’t last too long. Even though I’m of an ‘advanced’ age, I heal quite quickly so I have my fingers crossed that I’ll regain most of my mobility in the next few days. Right now, I don’t particularly feel that way, but I must remain optimistic and maybe I’ll be able to get some decent painkillers when I see my family doctor next week. I hate being humbled.