Monday, December 21, 2009


I sprained my ankle Saturday morning, the bad kind of sprain that might as well be a break even though "no bones were harmed in the making of this injury." It's okay. I'm icing it, taking medicine. Things are going well. But when I went to the doctor's office this morning to get X-rays taken, I was reminded of something. A man raced to hold the door open for me. Another person in the parking lot stayed to make sure I got into my car okay and even held one of my crutches as I fumbled in my purse for the car key. These small kindnesses and encouraging actions really made my day.

At the beginning of the movie "Love Actually," Hugh Grant's character has a monologue about love which plays over images from the arrivals gate at an airport. You see people hugging, grabbing each others' bags, kissing, laughing, glad to see each other, uniting, glad to be here... The point is that "love is actually all around," and that sometimes we just get blinders on and forget to look for it. We hear a lot about how the world is a dangerous place these days, and about all the bad things people do to each other, but the reminder is there: look for the good that's out there too. Because you'll find it.

I forget this sometimes, which may be why I've been blessed with weak ankles - consider them a reminder, my very own "Love Actually" monologue if you will.

My first bad sprains were about seven years ago. In high school soccer I sprained my left ankle, which healed up in time for me to return halfway through the season, but then sprained my right ankle on the first game back. It was frustrating and saddening, but people were so nice about it. Suddenly everyone would hold doors open for me. Classmates helped me carry my bags. Cars that would normally honk at me to get out of the way waited for me to crutch my way across the street.

My next major ordeal with sprained ankles happened in 2006. I was studying abroad in Europe, and accidentally stepped in a hole made by a missing paving stone when dashing across a busy street in Florence. CRACK. My foot turned, and I stumbled the rest of the way across the street, using my purse as a makeshift crutch and biting my lip to hold back cursing and tears. That was only a couple days into our week-long spring break trip to Italy, so I hobbled around Florence, Rome, Naples, and Capri with a foot the size of a softball and the color of a decaying blueberry. But time heals, right? And soon we were back in London and my foot, though a little weak, was pretty much healed.

A couple months passed, and suddenly it was two days before we were due to fly home to the States. My friends and I were planning to go out for the evening, so I dashed upstairs to grab some shoes so we could leave. My foot, that same caught-in-a-pothole-in-Florence ankle, came down wrong on the top landing, and instead of a cracking noise, this time it sounded more like a shattering crunch. Instantly a huge, hard lump of something that felt distinctly like bone jutted out from my foot at a very unsettling angle.

I was rushed to the emergency room, and let me just say as an aside here - experiencing socialized medicine firsthand when you are in desperate pain in a somewhat-foreign place is a comfort and a joy. It was wonderful having someone care more about my pain and physical condition than my insurance provider and method of payment. My flatmates were waiting out in the waiting area (including the girl who paid the taxi fare to get me to the hospital knowing at that point I couldn't afford to buy groceries, let alone pay her back for it), and I got to talking to a fellow patient - a seventy-year-old woman who'd taken a spill on the sidewalk on her way to a dinner party and had hit her head. All of these people helped comfort me and keep me calm.

People at the airport made jokes to cheer me up as I sped past the lines at security in a wheelchair. A week later I was exiting a subway car in New York (the first and only time I've been to the city was on crutches from that ankle injury), and one of the subway car monitors (I don't know what you call them... Not the drivers, the ones that sit in the cars near the middle), poked his head out and said to me, "You can do it! Don't get discouraged."

My parents have been to New York only once, in the 70s, and had always told me horror stories about how the people there are so rude. But as I crutched around the city, I discovered quite the opposite to be true. I encountered a security guard who chased me down to tell me an easier way to get into the Museum of Natural History, a woman in Little Italy who helped me duck into a doorway when an unexpected downpour could have easily soaked me to the bone, a street musician who improvised a song to cheer me up, and a kind of sketchy-looking guy in Chinatown who tried to illegally sell us designer purses and who grunted sympathetically when he saw my foot and said, “I been cut once, on my leg. It’s shit.”

So I guess that's my point: People really do care. People do nice things. People don't like seeing other people in pain or need. People go out of their way to help others. People do these things every day all over the world, consciously choosing to make the heroic gesture or to offer the encouraging word.

I bet you're one of these people, so thank you.

Seriously, thank you.

Happy Holidays, everyone. And thanks for everything you do that contributes to the peace, love, and kindness that make the season bright.

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