I take a few tentative steps and sharp pains shoot up my legs. It would make sense if my shoes were too tight but these are the same shoes I wear every day. They are well worn and the leather has expanded to fit my feet perfectly. No, these pains are something else.
Each step is excruciating but I have come to recognize the agony for what it is, a constant in my life. Like Avogadro's number it is never changing, permanent. As my foot hits the pavement the pain moves up my body and I am flush with inner heat. Yet, my skin is prickled and the hair on my arms stand up as if I've been thrown into a blast chiller. My eyes cloud and I realize that I've been holding my breath. I let out what's left in my lungs and lift my shoulders, inhaling deeply but the expansion in my chest puts pressure in areas I can't name and the pain explodes like white lightning behind my eyes. I exhale and begin to receive much needed oxygen slowly and shallow. The only way my body will allow. I fight against the pain just to breathe.
I take more steps and the shooting pain sets up a rhythm. I am able to handle its predictability but then the wave hits me. A dull ache washes over me like warm bathwater on dry skin. But this is overwhelming in its urgency. The sharp pains are still there but I am awash with a full body ache, my thoughts floating, struggling to focus.
I put one step in front of the other. I concentrate on one thought. Get through this day.
My body is heavy as lead, my skin electrified. A dampness clings to me and I am chilled, yet inside I am on fire. I feel like an oven that is capable of producing ice. Ice from fire. I am an enigma.
My pace is slow but progressive and although my body cries out at every move, I do not stop. I am pulled by a desperate need. It's a bubbling in my chest. A desire to be useful. I cannot let this day go by without accomplishing something. Anything. The list is long and my energy is limited. Persistence is all that keeps me going.
This motherfucker will not take me down today. This pain is conquerable. Just.
I don't know what lies ahead. I don't plan that far. All I know is if I lift my foot, move it toward my destination and place it down I can move forward. I do it and my body cries out in protest. My eyes narrow and I clench my fists. What's next, my foggy mind asks rhetorically.
Lift, move, place. Lift, move, place. Breathe. Repeat.
Will there ever be relief? I don't know. All I know is this moment and my determination to get to the next moment. The pain isn't going anywhere, but I am. I am going to live my life and the pain, sharp or dull, sudden or indefatigable, can go straight to the dark, soulless hell it came from. At least, I can imagine it there, struggling in its own pergatory to survive.
My eyes begin to clear and the air around me seems drenched with oxygen. I feel a burst of energy reaching out to my limbs, assisting them effortlessly in their task. The grey, dreary day seems imminently brighter and I feel the hand of my Higher Power embrace my pain. The ache does not dissipate but I find a new strength in my core that steels me against its onslaught.
I am not alone. Thank God.
I take another step and beyond the stabbing pain in my legs, I feel the cushioning sole of my shoe hugging my arch, stroking me in a motherly way. There is hope. My jaw relaxes into what would be a smile if my face was not still contorted in agony. Around me people walk. They do not see my pain. They see that my brow is knitted and I am without humour. They avoid me, giving a wide berth, enough for a freight train.
The train in my head blows its whistle and on the next exhale, a single syllable escapes my lips. It is an agonizing groan but sounds more like a growl. A startled woman looks up at me and her berth grows as she crosses the street to avoid coming anywhere close to me. Her dog scuttles away with her. A young man, texting on his cell phone, jolts my shoulder as he passes, sending a debilitating spasm down my spine from the impact. He barely notices what he has done to me. It's just pain but they don't feel it. They don't want to understand it. Where there is pain, there is fear.
I lift my foot, move it forward and place it down on the pavement. I do the same with the other foot and then I repeat. Just get through this day and bless them, Lord, for they know not what they do.