Thursday, July 18, 2013

Two steps forward, one step back

When the doctor says I should recover from ... whatever ... within a specific amount of time, I always imagine the trajectory of recovery to be smooth and forthright, without a zig or a zag and definitely without any switchbacks. But healing is rarely ever straightahead, at least in my experience.

There are plateaus, relapses and what seems to be backwards motion in virtually every kind of healing. It can be hard to remember it's perfectly normal to improve, suffer a setback, then begin to improve again.

I twist my ankle after which I'm mindful and careful for awhile. When it starts to feel better, I'm not so careful. I push it a little bit. Then - of course - my ankle hurts again. Did I re-injure it or is this a part of healing? I think beginning to use a recently twisted ankle is one way I tell my body I wish to have full use of my foot again; I think it's part of the healing. I'm showing my body how I will be using the ankle, so the body can organize the healing around that physiology. The timing is what's crucial. Is it too soon to bear weight on the ankle? A good question for the physical therapist, yes? I say yes.

I have not twisted my ankle, by the way. It's just an example.

I'm thinking of the meandering path of healing today because the same principle applies to social justice movements. When feminism and civil rights became active movements in the sixties, we were reminded of those whose shoulders we stood upon - the suffragists, for instance. Getting the vote was a big deal, but by the fifties women were back in the kitchen, expected to wish only for marriage and children. Black people were emancipated from slavery towards the end of the Civil War, but in the fifties were still legally segregated, not even allowed to use the same restrooms as white people, not allowed to sit at the front of the bus.

Right now both of those movements are re-invigorated, due to awful laws in Texas and Florida. Those who are inclined towards cynicism tend to go on and on about how nothing ever changes. That's not true of course. We have a second term black president, and Hilary Clinton is likely to run for office in 2016. Our society has undergone a tremendous amount of healing in the wake of the upheavals that took place during the 1960s.

It's time now to kick up these movements a notch. In order to see what still needs healing, apparently a nasty shock was necessary. In Texas, that looked like the law placing restrictions on pregnancy termination. In Florida, it was the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case.

Those of us who yearn for social justice tend towards impatience. We wish our society to be completely healed in the blink of an eye. Indeed. After an illness or injury, we wish to be 100% healthy overnight. But healing is labyrinthian. It requires patience and curiosity and a willingness to weave back and forth between comfort and discomfort.

May we take the next steps towards healing in American society with compassion and even humor. We are now capable of weight bearing in civil rights, including feminism. It might hurt but it's part of the healing. May we put one foot in front of the other on the winding path, remembering that healing is rarely ever perfectly linear. Life unfolds, in a roundabout, forwards/backwards motion, to the better way. Believe me.


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