The Gift of Injury: Community, Defined.
The 16 days since Joel blew out his knee have been a bit of a blur.
Right away, our living room expanded. It became dining room, with steaming bowls of comfort foods like homemade mac & cheese and rhubarb crisp crowding the coffee table, and bedroom, where I draped a light fleece blanket over Joel on the couch and rolled a ThermaRest out on the carpet. Bear seemed confused at first, but quickly adapted to our family’s new studio setting, occupying the foot of my sleeping bag just as she would the foot of our bed.
On Day 10, Joel saw a new doctor. We learned that everything we’d been doing had been wrong – the angle of elevation, the length of time icing, the inactivity – and that he needed to regain full range of motion before this doctor would even discuss surgery. Straight into physical therapy he hobbled, with homework to perform five sessions every day. Though he won’t be fishing this season, Cap’n J’s gained new, painful enlightenment of just how hard he’ll be working.
Astute friends studied me with knowing eyes: the explosion of zits, heavy eye pouches, conversations lost mid-sentence. Last week, with a couple hours to catch up on errands, I armed myself with a list. Mail letters, deposit checks, return books, groceries; okay, I can do all that.
Bursting into my first stop, letters in hand, I skidded to a baffled stop. What the hell is the credit union doing in the post office lobby?
As someone who lives by lists under normal circumstances, I’m now clinging to them as lifelines. Our dining room table, lined with butcher paper and Sharpies, resembles a war room. Realizing that my brain had scrambled beyond a list’s régime wasn’t comforting.
My most major lapse, however, has been in responding to your kindness. Longtime Hooked friends and new friends who’d been quiet lurkers until now, sincere thanks for your encouraging comments. I’m moved by your willingness to share your experience, grateful for your support, and embarrassed that I can’t seem to summon the energy to reply directly to your comments and thank you individually. It’s not you, sweetie – it’s me. I’m dropping balls all over the place. Phone calls and emails go unreturned. Ridiculous as it is, anything more involved than clicking a “like” or “re-tweet” has felt mountainous.
I’m a child of open water – I don’t want to hunch at the base of towering walls, trapped, struggling to catch a glimpse of light between peaks. But how do you break challenges that feel mountainous down into manageable tasks?
You ask for – and accept – help.
With me shipping out next month and Joel moving in with his folks’ house for the summer’s recovery, it became clear that our lovely house will need alternate residents. We’ve put the word out; details are available here. Surely there’s an artist/writer out there who’d like to spend the summer (or longer) in a beautiful Pacific Northwest retreat? If you know that person, please send them our way.
Declaring our house up for rent put things into motion. Family and friends leapt into action, bringing moving boxes over, rolling up their sleeves for the kind of deep-cleaning that a potential tenant warrants, yet somehow we never do for ourselves. They coördinated schedules to provide relief care, allowing me to still go to writing groups and the KPTZ interview last Friday. (Which was super-fun, by the way. Big thanks to host Phil Andrus for the invitation; sounds like we’ll do a series of long-distance conversations throughout the fishing season. I’ll keep you posted on air times.)
My memoir teacher, author Laura Kalpakian, presented us with a steaming pan of enchiladas one afternoon. She even included dessert: sea salt caramels, Joel’s favorite. He marveled, “She doesn’t even know me!” and I thought of all of the chapter drafts she’s read. Oh yes, she does, buddy – better than you think!
And remember Betsy, she of the soul made for mountains, who made such a valiant effort to triumph over seasickness last summer? I came home one day to this note on the counter:
And a freezer packed with heat-and-serve meals like this:
What words are possibly enough, faced with a friend who will spend the entire weekend working to eliminate one time-consuming task from a chaotic period in your life?
With the Nerka out of commission for this season, we re-evaluated our budgets. Fortunately, Joel has healthcare – catastrophic coverage, for situations exactly like this. (Example of what’s not covered: the $635 knee brace he’s wearing.) So his parents designated the remainder of their small coho inventory as the Cap’n J Medical Relief Fund. These under-6 pound salmon are notoriously difficult to sell: restaurants and grocers don’t want this small size. But they’re perfect for individuals and families. We put the word out, and folks passed it along. I’ve never been more grateful for social media, or more impressed by its power for good: requests flooded in. Unable to make personal deliveries, we decided to host an open house fish pick-up over the weekend.
A consequence of our transient, seasonal lives is that, wherever we are, Joel and I often feel not-quite-of-“here” and slightly-outside-the-bounds-of-belonging-“there”. This winter, with Cap’n J practically a resident of the Port Townsend Boat Yard, we felt even more divided than usual. So we really didn’t know what to expect. Who would come by? Would anyone?
Car after car filled the driveway. One of Joel’s closest friends from his days as a ski lift operator, a decade ago. The mother of his best friend from high school. The Red Wheelbarrow Writers were generously represented. A cousin I’d never met drove up from Seattle. A fishing friend organized neighbors and coworkers to place a group order, volunteering his own freezer as a central pick-up. Another, with more than enough seafood of his own, sent a check for us to “pay fish forward” to someone else. Salmon flew out of the freezer.
The kindness didn’t end with the weekend.
Four years ago, Joel and I bought our house under the guidance of a dream real estate agent, Sean Hackney. We didn’t know anything, but Sean took care to understand who we were and what was important to us. Patient, fun, and kind, he “got” us. Even better, he continued to be available as a resource long after the papers were signed.
Yesterday I opened my email to this subject line: “Alaska Coho Anyone?” The link went to a personal video message, recorded by Sean, sharing our situation with his contacts. Watching it, both Joel and I got a little choked-up. If you’re ever looking to buy or sell a house in Whatcom County, friends, you can’t find a more genuine, stand-up guy than this one.
All of this is to say that, despite periods of pain, fear, exhaustion, and a daunting recovery for Cap’n J, his injury has gifted us with a dawning realization. This is what community means. Belonging to a place is not how many years you’ve lived there, or that you’re a full-time rooted resident. Community is in how we recognize connectedness with the people around us — not only already-known friends, but those occupying the next circles out, friends of friends, acquaintances, strangers. It’s in seeing someone else’s struggle and success as linked to our own.
“Thank you” doesn’t measure up to the depth of our gratitude, friends. Rest assured, we’ll pay it forward.
For those of you in the Whatcom/Skagit/King County area: Last weekend’s open house was such a fun experience, we’re going to do it again. We’ll keep the freezer stocked and the door open over the next two weekends. (If the weekends aren’t good for you, let me know and we’ll work something out; Cap’n J will handle these sales through the summer.) Visit the Nerka’s Facebook page for more information, or contact me here. ♥