> Spirituality > Spiritual Odysseys

Broken Hand, Opened Heart

January 23, 2014 | by Debbie Gutfreund

Control freaks like me have a hard time asking for help.

It was ironic how I broke my hand because all I was doing was hiking with my husband on a warm winter day. Compared to bungee jumping and running at top speed through the polar vortex snowstorm, the walk in the forest was relatively risk free. It was sunny, and the ice had melted on all of the roads. But there were still some patches of ice scattered in the forest, so we were walking slowly before it happened.

I slipped while trying to avoid a wet pile of rocks, and at first I thought I had just jammed my finger. Jumping back up, I decided to ignore the pain. This strategy worked for the rest of the hike, and it even got me through the rest of the afternoon. The "if I don't pay attention to it, it will eventually go away" idea worked until that night when all the noise of the day faded, and the pain was still there.

I wasn't prepared for the x-ray technician's pronouncement the following morning: "It looks like your hand is fractured."

I stared at my hand in disbelief. It was supposed to just be a broken finger. I couldn't afford to break my hand. How would I function? And as the hand surgeon was giving me directions about the splint and speaking to me about the surgery to pin the bone back in place, I didn't realize how limiting life was about to become.

People go through a lot worse, I told myself as I sat down at my desk that afternoon. And it was true. But my mind kept wandering back to the conversation in the doctor's office when I had asked him if I could continue training for the NYC half marathon. Could he maybe give me a waterproof, lightweight cast? Maybe one with a gortex liner?

He looked at me speechless before he patiently broke my bubble. "You're going to need to sit down with your hand elevated and rest for at least six weeks. Then you can run."

I fought relentlessly against recovery. I didn't want to rest. I didn't want to ask anyone for help.

Six weeks? I couldn't sit down for six weeks! I had five kids, a packed schedule, and a whole house to manage. And on top of that, when I had signed up for the half marathon in NYC months ago, I told myself that I would run it no matter what. Even if I had to crawl across the finish line.

Over the next few days, I fought relentlessly against recovery. I didn't want to sit. I didn't want to rest. I didn't want to ask anyone for help. I wanted to run. I wanted to pick up my three-year-old from school and take him to the playground. I wanted to cook dinner and write articles and fix other people's problems.

But I couldn't even open a Sippy cup with one hand. I couldn't slice vegetables. I couldn't fasten the seatbelt on my son's car seat. I kept trying to pretend everything was the same just with a splint on my hand. It wasn't.

The day before the hand surgery I was sitting on the bottom of the steps trying to tie my sneakers with one hand. I was having a very hard time. I started to cry. Small, silent tears that I wiped away furiously. I didn't want this. This was not part of the plan.

I started blaming myself. Why did I go out on a hike in the middle of the winter? What was I thinking?

Then I began blaming my husband. Wasn't he the one who convinced me to hike that day? It's all his fault.

And then I switched to blaming the doctor. Couldn't he fix this sooner? Couldn't he just give me a really strong, protective cast that would let me ignore my injury until it healed?

I finally managed to tie my laces and I put my head down into my lap. Exhausted, I held my aching, splinted hand and blamed God. Why are You doing this to me? My hand isn’t supposed to break from one little fall in the woods. Why didn't You catch me? You know that I can't live like this. Why did You give me all this fire inside and then block my way?

I sat looking at my sneakers and at my useless hand by my side. I knew what I needed to do, but I didn't want to do it. Deep inside I knew that God wasn't blocking my way. He was asking me to train in a different way. To push through the greatest resistance: myself.

As I forced myself to ask for help, I thought of the millions of disabled people across the world. Is this what life is like for them every day? I couldn't believe that I had never really appreciated my hand, never marveled at how it reached and held and grasped onto life.

That’s when I finally looked at myself and saw the barriers inside of me. I saw the impatience and the fierce need to be in control and to plan my days, my months, my years. I saw the contours of my bucket list and how they left so little room for taking a step back, for connecting, for elevating.

There are so many things in life that are bigger than me.

I began to train the voice inside of me that clamored still for attention: "Do it yourself. It's only a broken hand. You can break open that package with your teeth. What's the big deal?" I slowly learned to ignore that voice, to turn to my seven-year-old and ask him to open the coffee jar and see the delight in his eyes when he helped me. I learned to give my toddler a chance to get dressed by himself. To give my teenager a chance to cook her first dinner. To give my husband a chance to take over. I learned, over and over again, to step back.

I realized that there are so many things in life that are bigger than me. I am finding a way to crawl across the finish line of my heart, crashing through the final barrier as I whisper, Thank You for holding my broken hand.


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