A Response to: "Can You Walk Even a Little?"

I'm just going to go ahead and make the assumption that you, dear-questioner-of-my-walking-abilities, has no concept of what "little" actually means. I'm so glad you asked because I'm more than happy to explain!

Little isn't something that can really be measured in inches or feet, so much as it is lived in years as someone who is a mostly-functioning 3ft tall adult. Little isn't something that can be sized up in your weird corner-eye glance, it's something that needs careful scrutiny on an x-ray for that tiniest sliver of a fracture. Because that tiniest sliver can actually be causing a very big pain. Little isn't something you can purchase and wear when you buy clothes from Gap Kids as a college student, it's just a paradigm and a frame of mind that we decide to put on ourselves. And just trust me on this one - this frame of mind isn't really a one-size-fits-all garment. Actually, you need to be a very big person to understand what "little" really means. It's kind of like how you need to experience sadness to understand what happiness is all about. Get it?

The first time I walked I was around four years-old and had already read my first beginner's chapter book: Amelia Bedelia! As I stood between the metal railings, feet planted in "proper walking position," legs strapped into my braces, and my physical therapists' hands on my waist - I had no concept of what "walking a little bit" meant. I understood walking, I understood standing, I understood that mom and dad were - needlessly - nervously standing by, because as I understood it: walking is something everyone does and this is not a big deal. So I walked: one foot in front of the other, the way I had seen my older brother and my parents, and my friends at school walk. I copied what was around me because that is how children first learn. As far as I had observed at that point, no one around me was concerned about walking "even a little." They just did it.

That first time I walked a few steps and then a few more, all the way to the end of the railing when I fumbled a bit to turn around. Did my upper body turn and cross over first? Was I supposed to reach one hand over to the other side of the railing? Or did my feet turn sideways first? Actually - back up. Wait a minute. Before all of those questions of "how do I turn around? And what do I do now?" came careening into my brain, I thought "Wow cool! I just walked!" My palms were sweaty, I probably looked a little robotic in my uncertain positioning, and even though I couldn't see my physical therapist behind me - I knew that she was beaming. After that first session was over she probably wrote in her physical therapist patient chart: patient walked with the assistance of bars and long leg braces. Distance covered: 5 ft. 

I'm pretty confident that she didn't check off on her charts:
X  Patient Walked A Little.        Patient Walked A Lot.
But I'm not a physical therapist so what do I know?

So as you're standing there in the aisle of the airplane or bus, or if you're standing in front of an amusement park ride, or maybe you're on the deck of a swimming pool, or you're standing at the foot of my hospital bed, or you're on the dock in front of a boat - and you ask "Can you walk even a little?" Please don't be offended when I look back at you baffled. I just don't understand your question. I mean, I get what you're asking - but I don't actually * get * it. Maybe it's because you are uncertain of how to transfer me, which is fair and I would be happy to help guide you. Maybe it's because you don't want to assume that I can't walk at all because for many people translates into I can't do anything at all. Or maybe you are uncertain of how much help you should offer, and don't want to come off as intruding on my stubborn independence. Thank you, I appreciate it.

(Don't even get me started on how it must feel for those of my friends who can't walk even a little! This is one of those rare moments in the world when something "even just a little" is not taken as an easy feat, it's not taken as anything even close to 'cute,' it's probably not even taken as anything little at all! For someone who can't walk, your 'little' question may be an unwarranted reminder of a BIG 'failing.' Your question may have just driven a big awkward spear into where you meant to inflate a raft). 

But for someone who has never put her steps forward (or backwards) in life in terms of little - I hope you understand why your question comes off as slightly jarring and a little awkward. Does it make a difference to you whether or not I can walk a little after having rod surgery? Or a lot after breaking my femur? Are you going to record the "little-ness" or "big-ness" of my walking ability in a patient chart I don't know exists? Why should we put a 'size' on our steps at all? Why can't we just accept it without the vague restrictions and fuzzy borders?

Those are my questions to you and when you've answered me all of those, then you can answer for me this question: "Can YOU walk even a little?" And let me know how it feels.

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2 Responses to A Response to: "Can You Walk Even a Little?"

  1. When I get asked this question, it often comes after the typical, "Can you walk?" Me, "No." Them, "Not even a little?". To this, no matter how I respond, I always feel a split second of mixed emotions that are as old as my conscious ability to answer such a question. I feel like the person is searching for the light; that "something" that is going to make me more like them, and as a result of knowing that I am going to answer them with, "Nope, not even a little", I feel like a failure. Not because I want to please them or give them that "something", but because it is obvious that the average walker sees their ability to do what I can't as a huge piece of their humanity. After this feeling passes, I usually feel a surge of annoyance or anger because it baffles my mind that people still can't just accept the chair, accept you're assumption for once. You do every other time. Still, none of these thoughts and feelings ever get translated into my response or subsequent conversation with the questioner. I usually just stick to a script that I have been continually shortening throughout my life out of frustration.

    1. Thanks for sharing your approach to this and I was really intrigued by your perspective. You put into words very nicely what I couldn't do which was "the average walker sees their ability to do what I can't as a huge piece of their humanity." That's the thing that irks the bajeezus out of me the most about all of this!


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