"I am still learning.” – Michelangelo
It wasn’t something I planned, becoming the owner of 3 different canes. There was no intentional collecting – one’s an heirloom, one’s an essential aid, and the other was a gift. My current situation brought them together, and each one brought its own little lesson.
First Cane: The standard wooden cane belonged to my father. It was his last cane, one that he kept nearby – even when he was using a walker or wheelchair. I can’t use it, because it’s not the right height (when I say I looked up to my father, it’s more than a metaphor). Along with some military memorabilia, it’s one of his few possessions that I kept after his death.
I’m the same age my father was when he first had to use a cane. He had a heart attack during my first year of college. It took him several months to recover, and the cane was helpful. He was able to return to his job without it.
Over the next few decades, he would need a cane again from time to time. More heart issues. A blood clot in his leg. Replacements for both knees. Then the cane became a permanent fixture. Until he needed a walker.
For the most part, my father kept a positive demeanor about his health. But I never got used to seeing him in a weakened state. Growing up, he seemed larger than life. Working multiple jobs, volunteering for different organizations, and being a father to 10 kids. He was the strong person I looked to for guidance. The rock I used as a support.
Then he became the one who needed support.
Most of us are lucky to have powerful people in our lives. Family, friends and loved ones with physical and emotional strength. When we need help, we always know that we can find comfort and safety in their arms.
First Lesson: Everyone has moments of weakness, and even the toughest amongst us need help. There may not be a cane to tip us off. Pain doesn’t always manifest from a physical cause, and it’s hard to see scars on the spirit. We need to take care of the caregivers and look out for the strong people in our lives.
Second Cane: The metal cane is the one I’m using during my recovery from hip surgery. There’s a saying that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. Like my father, at 55 I need to temporarily use a cane. Different causes, but similar effects.
The past few weeks have forced me to recognize my own human frailty. For days, I had to rely on other people for the simplest activities: getting dressed, using stairs – even just sitting down or getting up from a chair. Weeks later, I’m still not able to drive a car or stand for too long.
In contrast to my normal stubbornness, I asked for help. And people responded – my doctor, the nurses, the physical therapist, friends, and my wife – all provided assistance and guidance. With their support, my recovery advances every day.
Second Lesson: None of us can get through life on our own. We need to be honest with ourselves and recognize our vulnerabilities. When we need assistance, whether professional or personal, don’t be afraid to reach out. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of intelligence.
Third Cane: The cane that looks like a black stick is an Irish shillelagh. It’s a traditional cane made from blackthorn wood. We had one in our house growing up. This one was a gift from my friend, Sean Joyce – a fellow Irishman.
I’ve been fortunate to receive many different gifts over the past month. Books, wine, food baskets, plaques, more books, and Sean’s cane. Add to that the beautiful cards, notes, and calls that people continue to send. Across the miles and across the years, people have let me know that I’m in their thoughts. I’ve been moved to tears more than once.
Recuperation from surgery has been more difficult than expected. Sometimes it’s a struggle to balance pushing my body and allowing it to rest, which turns into an internal conflict of optimism versus fatalism. The gifts, cards, notes and calls help shift the scales, allowing my optimistic nature to remain in control. Along with that shift comes gratitude for all the support in all the different forms.
Third Lesson: I’ve written about the importance of being kind. It’s just as important to recognize and accept kindness. Take nothing for granted – be grateful for every considerate gesture. Say “thank you” to people for their thoughtfulness – because you’re going to need it again in the future.