THE STICK


I hurt my knee this week. So when I was about to go out, my husband suggested I take my trekking stick …just as a precaution.

A stick?

As I came out the door and onto the street I stopped. A stick? My first instinct was humiliation... Okay, that was my second instinct too.

Visions of everyone’s mother flashed through my head. White-haired sweet old dears being offered a pity seat on the bus, clutching their shopping (soft food only) to their breasts. Or bad tempered old crones tripping every passerby. Beating nasty little boys over the head.

I almost decided to go back and leave the stick behind. On the other hand the thought of being splayed spread-eagle on the cracked pavement was not exactly an agreeable one either.

So I took the stick.

The odd thing was, as I was walking I suddenly saw the world totally differently.

Do you know how many people are out there with sticks? And not the one’s who’ve had skiing accidents. You can tell them by their neon tans and their ironic looks. But all the other people lurching and struggling down the street.

I never noticed them before. But here’s the thing, they’ve been there all around me. Invisible. And now I had become one of them. Invisible.

But that was only one of my worries. The others were in reverse order:

What if I bump into an old boyfriend? Can I hide it under my coat? Twirl it like I’m trying out for a marching band. Affect a swagger and saunter, pretending I’m Gentleman Jack?

Or what if I don’t take it and my knee gives out on the stairs? Is crawling an option?

How good is my insurance cover?

But mostly I was wondering is this the moment of… And so it begins….

Let’s face it; recently I’ve noticed a lot of people beginning to sound like their grandparents. You can catch them having animated discussions about which orthopaedic surgeon is best: “Rothstein, are you kidding? He’s a butcher. You need to go to Horowitz.” Or trying to outdo one another in their afflictions: “What, only a hernia? I should be so lucky. Kidney stones! They took two weeks to pass. Worse than child birth.”

My sister’s friend hobbled into the gym with two bandaged wrists and a limp. She shook her head and said sadly: “All my body parts are falling off.”

The truth is I know that I’ve been pretty lucky so far. I’ve gotten away with a couple of dodgy knees and a nasty case of post-nasal drip.

But all that means nothing when I contemplate that stick. Sure, last month I was hiking in the Himalayas. But this week I’m about to be hobbling down the Finchley Road.

It’s only temporary. I know that. And yet I don’t like to admit defeat.

I’m obsessed by my iWatch. (Stupid, I know.) And every month the watch announces this month’s challenge - for example: walk a certain amount of kilometres or do a certain amount of exercise minutes… You get the picture.

I kill myself to get that award (which by the way, is no more than a dinky badge on the app. Oh yeah and a little firework display on the watch face.) What a scam, eh?

But I’m in. Every month I clock up those little badges religiously.

This month with my knee problem there’s no way I can make it. I have to give February up.

Raise the white flag. Let it go.

For twenty years, I tried to learn to ski. Year after year I wrestled with the torturous boots, lugging the icy skis to the hair-raising draglifts. And year after year, I was still on the bunny slopes (the one's with cute little Micky Mouse and Daffy Duck pictures) overtaken by a phalanx of killer six year olds effortlessly gliding by.

Still I persisted.

Until one evening I was sitting at the hotel bar when an 18 year old, super tall, blonde (need I say gorgeous) woman who had been in my ski class took the seat next to me. She threw back her hair insouciantly, wound her five-foot long legs around the barstool and asked solicitously: “Are you all right?”

I threw in the towel.

For years I’ve tried to speak French. I lived in France several times, I’ve taken group classes, have had individual classes, tried language discs. My grammar did get a bit better. At one point I’m pretty sure I had the imperfait and le plus parfait kind of sorted. But every time I opened my mouth I’d see horrified faces all around me, hands over ears, faces contorted like “The Scream.” So I tried even harder.

Then finally one day I beat a retreat. I just let it go.

I gave up the classes, threw away the discs and now I bang away at French and let the bodies’ fall where they will.

And yet those defeats felt like a cakewalk compared to using a stick...even for a few days.

So here I am. Today it’s freezing cold, windy and side-ways raining . The sidewalks are slippery, probably hazardous, and I have to go out shopping. I can see that trekking stick folded up in the corner. Winking knowingly at me. As much as I don’t want to take it, I know I will.

I guess sometimes you have to hang up your skis, give up this month’s award on your watch and throw away your French textbooks.

Sometimes you just have to take your trekking stick and cry “uncle.”

TURNING POINTS from Crowd-Writing

a book by Shelley Katz

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