Level-Up: Part 31

Every Sunday I record my health achievements and discoveries for the week here. To find out why I decided to start doing this, you can read an explanation in the first post of the series here.

On Friday I stepped out from a shop doorway and heard someone talking behind me. It was such a nondescript, low register mumble that I assumed he was talking to someone who had walked out directly behind me. I shuffled over to a nearby wall to check the text that had come through on my phone and to be certain I was comfortable enough to move off again.

As I slid my phone back into my jacket pocket, he made his way over to me. He was an elderly gentleman: short, sturdy, wrapped in a thick green jumper and trying his hardest to hide a slight limp. “Do you find it easier with that thing?” he asked, ushering his weather-beaten hand toward my walking stick. Initially I thought he’d meant the funky gadget I’d bought for it the day before. I had finally summoned the courage to visit the mobility store in the hope of finding something that would stop the stick from falling over when I was at shop counters. Dropping the stick invariably leads to people rushing to my rescue or me fumbling about in a fluster trying to gather my belongings without tipping the contents of my purse on the floor. Both of which makes me feel a bit silly.

“You mean the stick?” He nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I do. I can’t manage without it if I’m on my own, unfortunately.” He went on to tell me how he’d just recently had a knee and hip replacement and that his family kept telling him to use his stick, but he felt too self-conscious taking it out. I immediately realised why he was talking to me. He wanted me, some 50 years his junior, to tell him he wouldn’t look foolish if he used his walking stick.

“Well, I’ve got a balance disorder,” I said. “If I use mine it gives me a bit more support so I don’t get too wobbly.” For some reason, he seemed to think that he’d offended me and proceeded to apologise profusely. “Sorry, my love. I’m not being judgmental.” Once I’d assured him that I was in no way insulted by his interest, he carried on telling me how his working life as a coal merchant had ruined his body. His insecurity kicked in again and he began apologising once more for wasting my day. He really wasn’t. In many ways he reminded me of my grandfather; confident but gentle, full of untold stories and slightly broken from a lifetime working outdoors.

With more assurance that I had nowhere more important to be, he continued to tell me how he’d been advised all his working life to protect his body. “They told me I was supposed to wear a support belt around my waist and these things to look after my knees. I but I never listened nor did as I was told.” His defiance started to feel familiar. “I suppose you didn’t really think about it when you were younger,” I said. “No! Not at all! I was too hard-headed and stubborn back then.” His ability to laugh at himself suggested I could probably get away with ribbing him a little, so with a friendly smile I delivered, “Maybe that’s why you won’t use your walking stick now either, eh?” He bellowed with laughter and said “I think you might be right there, my love. I think you might be right.”

Sensing the conversation was drawing to a close I wished him all the best with his recovery and he told me to take care before tapping me gently on the arm and giving me an affectionate wink.

Some of us are built to do as we’re told, follow the rules and sit happily with whatever life throws at us. And then there are those of us who know what’s good for us, but insist on fighting, even when it’s ill-advised. I definitely found a kindred spirit on the high street last week. And I’m not sure if it’s comforting that some five decades from now I’ll probably still be trying to beat the odds, or if it’s deflating that I’ll likely still be avoiding doing what people tell me to do. But I have a feeling he’ll be using his walking stick a little more than usual from now on. Because sometimes what people like he and I need to hear the most, is that it’s alright to release yourself from the responsibility of battling that bit too hard without giving yourself a break.

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