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May 14, 2007
Nice walking, if I do say so myself: no lurching from side to side, no cane and, most importantly, no pain. I decide to test myself on a few stairsteps and find that I can accomplish them in the normal way, one after another, rather than the step-to-step-to technique I've been using.

A miracle.

But the next time I try, a completely different story: I set out and cannot lift my leg, subsiding at once into my old crablike creep as I proceed. The easy stairstep is gone, too. Ah, well, I think as I creep along and step-to-step-to up a little flight of stairs in the train station, easy come, easy go.

Actually, my brief interlude of smooth walking didn't come easily. I worked for it. Peculiar sets of stretches and very specific exercises of very small muscles, all-but hidden movements that don't look like they could be worth much of anything but which, over time, bring about a better range of motion, less pain.

It works if you work it, it appears. Eventually. But not every time, not perfectly. You're not immune to your pain from henceforth, just because you have a miracle sometimes. So it's best not to choose the presence or absence of pain as the barometer of your life. Something else would be better, something that reminds you that you are still yourself, on the days when everything works perfectly and the ones in which nothing does.

Here's one: the presence of prayer. It's something you can have whether your heart is full of happiness or full of sorrow. Since it's not a job or a test, it doesn't matter whether or not you think you do it well -- there's no such thing as doing prayer badly. Some old familiar words from an ancient tradition, some silent opening of the heart so that God can supply it with something it may not even realize it needs, a list of things you care about or worry about or long for or fear, things which you lay at the foot of the cross just by bringing them to mind: Here, you say, I can't carry this any more. Or this. Or this. Here, take it all.

Sit in this prayer for a bit, and something begins: a quiet thanksgiving that takes root inside you invisibly, right in the place where either your joy or your sorrow is rooted -- oddly, it doesn't really matter which one it is. That I am not alone in this pain. That the pain is gone, at least for now. That I have the thing I want. That I have your love even if I do not have the thing I want, even if I never do. My life doesn't have to be perfect in order for me to know gratitude. It begins on its own, looking at first like nothing much, just like my orthopedic exercises. Nothing much. But, little by little, it changes the approach to absolutely everything.
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