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Finding the Time for Thumbs, Hearts, Arms, Legs, and Love

Photo credit: Colin Rex

“I won’t do this. I can’t. I don’t have the time,” I looked up a bit sheepishly at the physical therapist. I wanted to tell her about the novel I haven’t finished, the clothes I need to collect for refugees, the son who waited for me at home sick, the dogs probably scratching the back door, needing a walk. I wanted to tell her about the illegible piles of mail written in German, the yogurt and trash bags I needed to buy, the mom I needed to call, the millions of emails I had yet to read.

But I didn't have time.

We were staring at my little swollen, still slightly deformed annoying-as-hell scaly ugly thumb. The nasty thing would barely bend.

“You have to. You have to exercise it every hour for the next two weeks at least— or your brain and your hand won’t know how to make your thumb work anymore,” she urged. She seemed to care a lot about my thumb. It was so strange. “Your brain will give up on it,” she continued. A whole bunch of parts of me— the parts that seldom breathe—sort of felt like crying.

A month ago the ligament attaching my right thumb to my hand was split in two by a rogue basketball at a middle school game where I was simply a spectator. Bad luck, right? Or perhaps it was it the only way…

I sat through the rest of the game trying to tell the rapidly swelling hand to behave. I didn’t want to cause a stir, embarrass the player who’d thrown the ball, or God forbid upset my planned-out evening. A week later, I had surgery to repair the hand, and then skied two days later. I still wouldn’t bother our family schedule. I wouldn’t stop. Now, on most days I just forget about the stupid little thing. I wear a cast, I walk the dogs, I type, I trot or bus or train everywhere. But whatever. Life goes on.

Except the physical therapist this morning was slicing me to pieces with her narrow blue eyes. A University of Zürich student (learning from my ignorance) glared at my thumb, shaking her head.

“You have to do this,” urged the therapist, speaking in her heaviest German accent (for effect I thought.) I straightened in my chair. It felt like she was talking to my whole being, not just my thumb.

“For yourself,” she said a bit more softly. “Or your hand won’t work.” I imagined never regaining the ability to pickup a pen, to grab a sponge and wipe a counter, to scoop dog poop in a coordinated way. I suppose I did have to make the time. That little thumb wasn’t going to let me off the hook. I would do the exercises (in fact I shall stop writing shortly to do them.)

Minutes later I ran home, hand dangling, and I thought about all the moms ignoring their bodies, their needs. As my feet pounded pavement, I could practically hear my mom friends and me. We were like a chorus of excuses:

“I don’t have time to exercise.”

“I don’t have time to eat well.”

“I don’t have time to go to the doctor, make social plans, get out of my car and walk places. I don’t have time to read, meditate, go to church, take a bath, talk to my husband, cook, have sex. I don’t have time to get a job, quite my job, to get sick, to call my friends, to go to the hospital, to go to the bathroom while not checking some list in my ticking time deprived head…”


My heart beat. Thud thud. Time. Time. My iWatch dinged. My Google map insisted I turn right. My Duolingo flashed a reminder demanding I learn my German adjectives today. But I ran on up that hill, and it occurred to me then—

WHEN? When will I have time? I stopped running, and I walked, for heaven’s sake. I tried to listen to the different tones of the birds. I looked up the streets reveling at the fact that I was there, alone, wandering home in Zürich frigging Switzerland. I tried to feel the damp air on my skin, look up at the powdery sky. I tried to find the quiet woman inside of me who is patient, who is alive who is running and rolling in copious amounts of luxurious, beautiful living time.

Maybe the kids will find food in the house even if there isn’t any yogurt. Perhaps the kitchen will be okay not perfectly clean until tomorrow. I bet the mail can wait, the novel will forgive me for one less page written today.

But my thumb, my mind, my arms, my legs, my husband, my children, my friends, my mother and father and sisters and those cute little refugee kids— they are all I have that is alive.



So off I go to stretch that thumb— “slowly,” she said.

It's a start, I guess. Okay, I’ll try it. I’ll try it again.

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