Billy Joel is one of my favorite musicians. The first concert I ever went to was one of his, and he’s responsible for my pre-teen love affair with the state of New York. I used to open up the encyclopedia and sketch the entire state, counties included. When a stray cat we took in ended up being pregnant and giving birth to a litter of kittens back in the late 80s, I named one Nyli — short for New York/Long Island. I’d have given anything to live in the Hamptons. Little did I know, one day I’d live just across the sound in Connecticut; I still wish I’d have lived in New York instead of Norwalk. I think the state has a magic that I missed out on — a magic that isn’t obtained through proximity or osmosis; you have to really live there, really be, see, smell, taste and feel it. As a result of not doing this, I ruined the East Coast for myself, and am relegated to admiring New York from afar.
I went for my evening walk earlier and wasn’t really in the mood for it. The air was still and warm, warmer than it had been over the weekend. Somehow I started to develop a blister on the fourth toe of my right foot, despite not being a newbie when it comes to four-mile treks. Something about my walking pace usually inspires me to default to a couple of songs: “Silver Bells” (I have no idea why) and Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” Neither was coming to mind tonight, so I did the best I could and passed the next hour with thoughts of the previous day’s red-tailed hawks, musings about why there were at least three helicopters hovering over the Disneyland area (turns out there was a bomb scare) and tried to keep my mind off that pesky toe.
Somewhere in between my personal game of trying not to step on newly-fallen-but-not-yet-lifeless jacaranda blooms and dodging bees, I looked up long enough to see a woman motoring towards me in her wheelchair. My blister-in-training and disgust with the warm evening suddenly seemed to mock me, as if they were saying, “You thought we were bad? Try being in one of those. Forever. No walking to exercise, no walking at all. Just sitting.”
She was on her cell phone, but still managed to smile as she passed me. I smiled back and continued on.
Another Billy Joel song came on the radio a while ago when I sat down to write. While not written about anyone in a wheelchair, one of the lines made me think of the lady I passed earlier when I heard, “She can kill with a smile, she can wound with her eyes.”
Her smile earlier tonight made my heart hurt. It hurt because she clearly felt she had enough to smile about while the rest of the world likely looked on at her with some degree of pity — and how dare I feel pity for anyone without having knowledge of their story. Perhaps she defeated death and is relishing her life, regardless of the chair. Perhaps she beat a coma and now enjoys nothing more than feeling the evening breeze — warm or otherwise — in her hair, despite the chair.
You never know. We never know about anyone, in truth. We only know what we see, or what they allow themselves to share with us. So many times there’s far more just beneath the surface, not unlike an iceberg.
Tonight I was reminded of all the things I take for granted — my ability to bend down and tie my shoes on for a multi-mile walk, my ability to stand up, period — and was instantly smacked in the face by reality in the form of a smile that won’t be kept down. It was a smile that has seen more struggle than my darkest hour (and certainly a ridiculous blister), and a smile that reminded me to suck it up and carry on.
Every day. No questions, no doubts, just a whole lot of doing.