From runner to ‘Walk-ER!’

Buddhists have a soft spot for Ebenezer Scrooge. tinytim Of any Dickens character, the reformed miser shows the tremendous potential people have for overcoming their own greed, hate and delusion.

Runners, meanwhile, sympathize with Tiny Tim, because we know how much it sucks to be derailed by a bum leg.

There’s a couple things I wouldn’t mind having in common with the little fella. It’d be nice if my dad would hoist me on his shoulders for the odd stroll through old London town. And if a wealthy benefactor stepped up to spring for my physiotherapy, I wouldn’t say no.

What Tim and I do share isn’t so nice: an undetermined condition that makes running a painful impossibility.

Dickens didn’t name Tiny Tim’s affliction. When I Googled it the answer came up “rickets.” But then I never bothered to Google what rickets is, so I’m really no further ahead.

When I plugged my own symptoms into the search engine, I got diagnoses ranging from poor chi circulation to stage-four cancer. The one that seems most on the money is a stress fracture, as the pain in my lower left leg feels particularly boney and ouchy.

I received a similar diagnosis a few years ago, that time from an actual doctor. X-rays and several tests administered at the hospital pointed to a stress fracture, but only peripherally. Most stress fractures don’t show up on X-rays, I learned, and they can’t be identified through blood tests or ultrasounds. So my doctor drew his conclusion based on the logic of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock: “If you eliminate the possible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

The prescription: Stop running for a week. Repeat as necessary.

My leg today feels much as I remember it feeling back then. A persistent ache above the ankle and a recurring limp have kept me from running this past week, and will likely scramble my spring running schedule. Competing in this Saturday’s Jordan 5K seems improbable at best, and the 100-mile trail run in May, which I started training for in November, is up in the air.

What’s different from my injury of a few years ago is my outlook. Back then, I’d wake up, hopeful that little elves had magically mended the bone while I slept, and that everything would feel normal again when foot touched the floor. Then I’d take two steps, stumble in agony, and swear up a storm over how unfair it was to be sidelined by this stupid injury for so long.

I suspect I’d be doing the same today were it not for dharmic practice, which has helped nurture an acceptance for things as they are, and an expectation that events often don’t pan out as expected. It’s an understanding that isn’t just intellectual, but one that seemingly runs deeper, one that can be felt right in my possibly-stress-fractured bones.

Acceptance isn’t enthusiasm, of course. It’s not like I woke up today and upon feeling the pain, hopped for joy on the good leg and high-fived the statue of the Buddha on my home altar. I would rather run than not, sooner rather than later, but it ain’t happening today.

The hiatus from running will at least free me up to do other stuff – reading for one. After finishing the newly republished The Zen Teachings of Homeless Kodo, I might dip back into the classics, maybe some Dickens. I may even give A Christmas Carol another whirl. Scrooge pledged: “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” So he’d support my reading it out of season.

Of all the memorable quotes from the story, my favourite comes from the wise-cracking kid Scrooge enlists to fetch the prize turkey for the Cratchit family on Christmas morning.

“Go and buy it,” Scrooge implores.

To which the kid answers: “Walk-ER!”

If my Grade 2 teacher was right, that’s old-timey English for “You’re nuts!”

I not only look forward to rereading that line, but also appreciate that I’ll be able to enjoy it while I’m recuperating.

There years ago, reading some smart-alecky kid taunt “Walk-ER” while I was nursing an injured leg would have rubbed me the wrong way. He might as well be saying “Oi! You! Tha bloke what’s readin’ this: YOU’RE tha Walk-ER ’cause you can’t even RUN!”

Thankfully, things are different this time. Dharmic practice has shown me limping around on a bad leg isn’t so bad when you’re supported by a healthy perspective.