The Walking Notion
Left, Right. Heel, Toe. Describing the walking motion could not seem simpler. After all, one-year-olds have conquered the once seemingly acrobatic task. The motion becomes second nature until an outside force interferes with the routine habit. A fibro-osseous calcaneonavicular coalition was just that impetus – thus began my four and a half year medical odyssey. After a year and a half with a limited range of motion and a limp, a single surgery completely erased my cognition of typical walking protocol. Limping became normal. I neither noticed nor questioned my uneven gait: it felt so natural. A lateral release on my right knee, an attempt to assuage chronic patellofemoral syndrome, further clouded my mind’s perception of walking. The once familiar heel-to-toe motion became a concept more foreign than polynomiography. The series of injuries and conditions culminated with a stress fracture, likely caused by custom orthotics, a futile effort at proper knee alignment.
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The stress fracture was misdiagnosed and festered for twelve months, mandating another two months with a medical boot and crutches.
Finally, the day came when I was free – free from the boot, from the crutches, and from the oppressive lack of independence they bred. I could feel pressure rush through my foot. I felt my foot sink into the floor as I stood alone, but my body felt lighter and my spirits freer. I felt every muscle strain to roll through my first unassisted step. I was able to wobble to the refrigerator to serve myself lemonade, and hobble to my desk to get my calculator, and even limp to the bathroom without having to rely on the crutches. This uneasy movement, hardly quintessential of walking, became possibly the most exhilarating experience of my life.
I had to re-teach myself to walk. If only my toddler intuition would kick in! The mundane motion now felt outlandish. Prior to my medical escapade, I had learned the graceful ballet walk: a small developpe, toe to heel. I learned the marching roll step: heel, arch, ball. I learned the soldier doll march from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, the energetic jazz run, and a stiff lopsided limp. I knew many unique walks, all of which were circumstantial. How was I supposed to walk when simply trying to move from point A to point B?
I had to create a new style of walking. The gait I then adopted would become my stride, a characteristic mannerism that I had neglected to acknowledge for too long. It would become a part of me, since we all have a unique, recognizable swagger to our step. I never understood how significant the simple, yet revolutionary motion was until it was physically impossible. What was “the right walk”? Each time I tried to focus on my stride, it changed. So I walked. I don’t know how; I don’t know if it was even; I don’t know if it was balanced; I don’t even know if my toe or my heel hit first. But I walked. I stopped thinking about the mechanics and focused on the outcome: motion. And now, I simply walk.
I suppose I cannot fully analyze my stride. When we try to break down the known into little pieces, it seems the pieces never add up to the apparent whole. It is a ubiquitous ambiguity: we only know what we know because we think we know it. As soon as that knowledge is crippled we begin to question our knowledge. Then all we can do is lead ourselves to be who we want to be, by simply being.