The One-Armed Bandit

Posted by on 03.18.08 | 2 Comments
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We live in a society which is dedicated to twosomes: two hands, two feet, two breasts, two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, two knees, two thighs–one could go on. And then there is the story of Noah on the ark and how all the animals came in two by two–seemingly fulfilling some idea of perfection, and, of course, the possibility of repopulating the earth, always a good idea after the ravages of a world flood.

Recently, I had an operation for Carpal Tunnel syndrome on my left wrist and have been living in the land of the one-handed. It is not a particularly friendly land, mind you. Everything is made for two-handed people, and even two-handed people whose hands actually WORK. Forget about arthritis. Forget about knobbly older hands which cannot hold a jam jar tightly enough to unscrew the top. Forget about those dratted child-proofed drug containers which are impossible at any hour of the day or night, but especially impossible at 2 a.m.

Not wanting to call on the rest of my household to come help me every time I needed something to be done, I resolved to do it on my own. Ha. How humbling this has been! I found that in order to open any kind of jar I could sort of tuck it tightly under my left arm, clamp it to my side, and wrestle with the lid with my right hand. That sometimes worked, although I have to say that most of my garments are now splattered with a vivid array of: spahgetti sauce (and curses); organic raspberry jam, which somehow seems sloppier than the sugary, supermarket variety; dog food (ah, those cute little easy to open tops!); face cream; and other unnameable substances. It is very humbling to suddenly be thrust back into the territory of toddler-hood, or perhaps old age with diminishing capacities.

And that made me think about how much we assume that our bodies will work, that my body is my strong pony which will go wherever I direct it and do whatever I tell it to do. Suddenly, I have lost what feels like the left half of my body, and I feel odd–disconnected–incapable. Anger tends to well to the surface when my hand cannot open something desired. I have sworn more than is good to do in front of an avid 17 year-old, who already has a very salty vocabulary, and in fact delights in each occasion of her mother’s cursing.

How do people do this? On a daily basis, without complaining, figuring out how to function in a world dedicated to two appendages that work–always? I have learned to slow down, just a little bit. I have lowered the bar for myself (which is usually pretty darn high). I expect less, I do less, and in some wonderful, ragged fashion, I see the world differently with my useless appendage hanging by my left side.

It reminds me of the months when I nursed my son twenty-one years ago–how I would sit on the couch, book at my side, a thermos of tea on the table nearby, and just let Ben feed as deeply as he needed to. I could go nowhere, do nothing else, answer no phones, and not be available to anyone but my son and his hunger.

I spent a lot of precious time on that couch with my newborn, looking out the window at the changing seasons; watching the trees leaf out and the birds return to our land. It was a sweet and precious time, out of time. My heart slowed as my thoughts slowed. I became more reflective, calmer, perhaps even wiser.

So I am learning to be grateful for my one-handedness, and I say that knowing that this has a limit–that soon I will return to the ease of having two hands which work, which can drive, which can unscrew jars, and which can hold two eager dogs as I walk up the road. But for now–for these few weeks out of time–I am once again looking out the window, savoring the sky and the wild clouds, watching for the geese who are starting to straggle across the sky once again.

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