The reunion was over. Detasseling was over. Drew’s summer jobs were ending. In another week, he would be going off the University of Iowa. Shalom’s and Chris’ baby would be due on the 24th. I would have to miss it. I would be in the middle of the Boundary Waters, canoeing, camping and contemplating the Milky Way.
On the Wednesday evening following the reunion, when the rest of the family was at church, I got home late, and decided not to go. Earlier in the day, I had made a phone call to the outfitters, in Ely, Minnesota, because I was concerned about something I had noticed on the invoice for the first night’s lodge stay, ahead of the actual canoe trip. They assured me that it was okay for a ninth person to be in the room, but he would have to sleep on a couch. I was okay with that, but then they started asking me questions about that ninth person. I told them that one member of our party was bringing a kayak, and that we had two canoes, and that we might need to rent a couple of canoes from them. Were they available? Well, yes, they are, was the reply, but the party I had just described was not allowed in the Boundary Waters. It was true that the campsites were cleared to accommodate up to nine persons, but each party is allowed only four watercraft. Nine campers, or four watercraft, whichever comes first. For a group of nine, at least one of the canoes would have to be a three-man canoe.
Wow, I thought as I hung up the phone. This changes things. It’s a good thing I found about this before we got there. Either Brian is going to have to leave his kayak at home, and three guys go in a three-man canoe, or if the kayak comes along, then six guys are going to use three-man canoes. This is not going to go over well with the guys. I’ll have to send out an email, or tell them on Sunday.
When I got home, I was still pondering this new information while I laced on my running shoes, and got on my recumbent bike for some exercise. But, I didn’t want to ride indoors. I wanted to get outside. So, I took to the road for a brisk walk instead. But, I didn’t want to walk, either. I wanted to run. Never mind that the last time I had run, my knee was sore for weeks. I needed to find out if I would be able to withstand portages with a canoe. So, when the road started going downhill, I started ramping up into a jog, just testing. I hadn’t gone 40 paces like this, when my right knee completely buckled, and I went down in a heap in the gravel. It felt as if a dagger had just been thrust into the inside corner, just below the kneecap, while the outside felt as if a rubber band had snapped within.
It’s hard to describe all that goes through the mind in an instant. I knew this was bad. I knew it would need surgery. I knew I was not going to work in the morning. I knew I was going to have trouble getting back home.
I knew I would not be going on a Boundary Waters canoe trip.
I grimaced and rolled around on the road, trying to straighten my leg to alleviate the sharpest pain. It would not relent. I rolled to where I could get up using just my left leg. I tried to put some weight on my right leg. At first, it could not bear it, and started to buckle again. Another knife wound feeling. I stiffened the leg, and took a step. Maybe I could walk through this, and keep going, I reasoned futilely. I limped on, another hundred steps away from the house. It did not improve.
I noticed far up the next hill, that people were gathered in the cemetery, most likely mowing. I did not want to call out, to let anyone know of my injury. Perhaps, they had not seen me fall. But, I was limping, and it hurt. So, I turned around, more out of pride, than defeat. I did not want to be helped. I did not want to admit brokenness. Maybe, like a newly sprained ankle, it would be possible to keep going for a while until it swelled. I limped, hobbled, and hopped back up the hill. As I approached the driveway, I heard a car rumbling up the road behind me. I quickened my pace, steeled against the stabbing, and made it halfway up the drive before a car slowed and then moved on past. I did not turn back. Surely they had seen that I was alright. Everything was fine, right?
The four stairs to the deck side entrance presented a new problem. They could only be negotiated one at a time, using my good leg, while clinging tightly to the railing. I stumbled through the house, and sat down. Despite what I already “knew”, I kept trying to reason my way out of it. Maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe it won’t swell (it was already swollen). Maybe tomorrow, it’ll bear weight, and I won’t limp. Nobody has to know. I should see if I can handle any low impact exercise, even now.
So, I got on my recumbent bike, and pedaled. For fifteen minutes, I pedaled. Then, I stopped. I got off. I could not walk. Not a step. I needed to lean on something at all times. I got down on my hands and knees. Curiously, this was the only position that did not hurt. I could put this kind of pressure on my knee and crawl, but I could not stand on that same knee for a second. So, I crawled. I needed an ice pack.
I spied a 2×4, that we use as a burglar block when locking the sliding door. It became my cane. I learned a new skill. Canes work best held in the opposite hand from the injured limb. Never knew that before. But, now I could walk—sort of. I got an ice pack from the freezer, hobbled to the living room, positioned my knee up on a cushion, iced it, and waited.
I had to tell Sandy what I had done. I had to call work to say I would be “out for awhile.” I could not find a single comfortable position, so I did not sleep well. The next day, the orthopedic surgeon pumped my knee full of cortisone, and said, “Hmmm. Boundary Waters, huh? Ah……..no.”
Cortisone is a great enabler.
“I feel better already!” I said on Saturday. “Maybe I’ll be able to go to work on Monday, after all. In fact, I’m going with you tonight.”
Seth had a gig that night, singing and playing the piano, at Mojo’s. Mojo’s is a coffee shop area of the River Music Experience, a music heritage museum in downtown Davenport, where talent can get experience before a live crowd. Drew would be playing guitar for Seth on several numbers. Sandy had agreed, weeks ago, to play guitar for him on one song called, Somebody’s Praying. Of course, I had agreed to play bass for him on that same song, but with the reunion and everything, well…
“In fact, I’ll bring along the laptop, and livestream his show,” I said. “I don’t really need these crutches. I’ll bring them along, just in case, and we’ll just see how it goes.”
“Uh, this doesn’t look good,” said Bill, when I walked into church on Sunday, using crutches.
“Nope, it’s not,” I admitted. “It’s going to need surgery. Sometime this week, I expect. But, I do have some good news, believe it or not. I won’t be going on the trip. That’s true. I’m thinking God’s got something else in mind for me that week.” I smiled, and then continued, “but I did find out something about the trip that you guys need to know about.”
In the most positive manner I could muster, I told them about the four watercraft limit.
“But, with me not going, you can do it with four two-man canoes,” I said.
“Whoa, I didn’t know that,” said Dave, who had spear-headed the trip. “I mean, I’m sorry you can’t go, and everything, but that would have been really tough to find out when we got there. I guess I didn’t think to ask about something like that because last time, it was just three of us, and a guide.”
“Well, God’s got something else in mind for me,” I said again, hoping they would buy it. “There’s always another time. Maybe then, I can go with my real friends.”
They laughed. But I, or should I say God, had just solved a dilemma for them.
Now, what exactly was it that He did have in mind for me? I had spent quality time with Shalom, before the accident, hadn’t I, when I took her belly shot pictures? And hadn’t I just spent quality time supporting Seth, just three days after the accident? Why did He have to take away my time with the guys?
An MRI, on Tuesday, confirmed a complex meniscus tear. Surgery would be the following week. So, Sandy carted me and my crutches around, while I made peace with my circumstances. She drove me around, that day, to visit many of the old neighborhoods I had grown up in, and I hobbled around and took nostalgic pictures. We finished our day with a Harris pizza—as good as ever. I took a picture of that, too.
“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”
Life’s lessons have a nasty habit of just sticking on the page. It has always been easier to read a book, or watch a movie, or listen to a sermon, and say, “That is so right,” than it is to put wisdom into practice. One day, I’m a great grandpa. The next day, I ignore my sons. Soon, the opportunities pass, and there are no more next times.
I have always been saddened when one of our children goes off to college. But, you learn to steel yourself against the emotions. Driving away from Pensacola, Florida, in 1997, was awful. We were leaving our firstborn daughter a thousand miles from home. I was sick with heartache. This year, it was Drew’s turn.
I was not of much use with the physical move, because of my knee. But, I came along. You always want to be there when your children leave home. It is chaotic, moving into the dorms at the University of Iowa. Drew was moving into Rienow Hall, we were using two cars, and you are given a card allowing just so much time in the make-shift grass field turned parking lot, to unload items and carry them over, under, around, and through to the dorms. I could not do any of the carrying parts, so I volunteered, when the first car was emptied, to “follow these simple directions”, and drive to the off-campus lot and take the CamBus back. Only the simple directions took me to a lot that was three miles from the dorms. And the shuttle bus only came every half hour. And it wasn’t labeled “shuttle bus to the dorms”. So, I missed it.
My indignant macho self wanted to scream, “Fine, I’ll walk!” But, I had not brought my crutches to Iowa City.
“Don’t be stupid!” my knee shouted back. “And just how far do you think you’re going to get in half an hour at broken knee pace?”
So, I waited for the next bus. And brooded.
Self-pity is a choice that leaves regret, though. I was not entirely self-focused from that point on, but enough so, that opportunities passed. Often, when I have been peeved by something, it leaves a scowl on my face that I don’t even know is there. People leave you alone, and so you are, well, alone.
Sandy was having a great time. Her sister was also in Iowa City, leaving her only son on campus, and they had now found each other in Drew’s room and were chatting merrily away.
“Are you alright,” Sandy asked me, taking me aside. She was legitimately concerned about my knee.
“Yeah, I’m alright,” I complained, and began to complain about my inconvenience.
“Well, how about notifying your face, then?” she whispered encouragingly. Suddenly, I was back in Drew’s world. With a little face stretching, back of the neck rubbing, and a good deep breath, I was able to pull myself out of my funk long enough to see other people again.
Once Drew was settled in, and Sandy said goodbye to her sister, we actually did do some walking around the campus with Drew. And we talked. There were no awe-inspiring words spoken. Mostly, it was Sandy and I pointing out little things about the campus to Drew, since this was, after all, our alma mater. I had the sense that Drew was simultaneously anxious for us to leave, and anxious for us to stay. I remember that feeling.
It was slow walking, of course. And, it turned out to be a bad idea. Not bringing the crutches had been dumb. I had had no intention of walking in Iowa City when we left Lost Nation, but here we were walking. Iowa City is not flat. We bought dinner downtown, and started walking back to the dorm, but two miles of Iowa City hills had been quite enough by then, so we waited for a bus.
I was melancholy on the trip home. Sandy probably was too, but she tried to be positive. There was still plenty of daylight left, and she kept suggesting that we journey down some road we’d never been on before, just to see what’s there, but I kept saying, “no.”
The next morning, Friday, was the day I would find out the results from Tuesday’s MRI . I had an appointment for 10:00 a.m.