I Cannot Walk, But I Am Lucky

Note: Nora Super is a respected thought leader, frequent speaker, and prolific writer on the ups & downs of aging, mental and physical health, and financial security. Nora has had numerous national level roles related to aging, including as the Obama Administration’s Executive Director of the 2015 White House Conference on Aging. This post is being republished with her permission from her personal Medium site. We appreciated her insights on living with a disability and felt it important to share with our audience.

I cannot walk. I used to be a strong woman who prided herself on working out on a regular basis. Although I was never a fast runner, I could run miles, entering half marathons and 10k races to test my endurance. I could bend my body into warrior and happy baby poses for yoga, whereas now I can barely move my legs.

I cannot walk. Before my accident . . . who am I kidding? It was no accident. Before I tried to end my own life by jumping seven stories, I used to walk everywhere. I broke my back in two places, which left me paralyzed from the waist down. My depression took over my mind, and now, I live with the consequences every day. I used to walk around the neighborhood with my happy-go-lucky Beagle, wagging his tail and sniffing out chicken bones wherever they can be found. Blocks to dinner to try a new restaurant or enjoy an old one. We could drink however much we wanted with no fear of driving while drunk. I could walk to vibrant Magazine Street to window shop and discover New Orleanian artists on nearly every corner. I could meander in small antique shops and novelty stores without fear of bumping into valuables in my wheelchair. But I am ALIVE! And for that, I am forever grateful.

I cannot walk. But I can smell the flowers blooming in the spring. The sweet, pungent smell of pink and white azaleas, orange and purple tulips, and yellow daffodils tickle my nose and wake up all five senses. I can stop and smell the roses, and now their vibrant fragrance is a bit of a miracle, brought to us by painstaking gardening or, in my case, the resiliency of rosebushes that refuse to die by neglect. Their emergence each spring is a reminder that we can bloom again even if we go through dry spells.

I cannot walk. So, I can no longer dance. Dancing is one of the activities I miss the most since my injury. Swaying my hips to the rhythm of the beat, moving my feet to the vibration of sounds, and twirling in circles around and around in complete delight. I can still dance in my seat with hand gestures, but I can’t move my butt anymore.

I cannot walk. But I can see the children running around the playground, hanging from monkey bars, and slipping down slides. Making new friends and giggling with old ones. Greedily asking Daddy to push some more on the swings or Mama to stay for longer even though it’s near suppertime.

I cannot walk. But I can taste the raindrops on my tongue and hear the thunder roll like giant bowling balls crashing into the pins. I can see the lightning crash near the big oak trees and flicker bright light into the dark sky.

I cannot walk. But I can still read and write. There are so many books I want to read—novels, memoirs, history, short stories, nonfiction—much more than I’ll ever have time to, which is a blessing for sure. And I still love to write. I’m enjoying writing personal essays like this one. I will finish my memoir soon and maybe dabble in short stories and other fiction, too.

I cannot walk. But I can still talk to my daughters and my sisters and my brother and my friends and other relatives. We can share in each other’s struggles and each other’s joys. From movie stars and Royals to politics in shambles and the World melting away, we can talk and talk. We can remember how much we are loved, and that’s all that really matters. In the depths of depression, it’s hard to remember how much we’ll be missed and what a hole we’d leave in our loved ones’ lives, but we would. It’s much better that we’re still here and can still talk to each other.

I cannot walk. But I can feel my husband tenderly kiss my mouth. At one point, I wanted my life to be over. Now I relish all the precious moments I used to take for granted . . . to have another human love you so much he wants to kiss you, hold your hand, tuck you in, bring you food and drink, help you use the toilet. I keep saying to him, “I know this isn’t what you signed up for.” But he willingly cares for all my needs every day. Both of us know it’s way better than the alternative. If I had left this world, he would be painfully lonely, and I would no longer be able to enjoy his sweet kisses.

I cannot walk. But I can touch my leg and feel the warmth emanating from beneath my skin. Nerve pain radiates deep in my right thigh, reminding me that my leg no longer functions properly. But I can kick my foot and advance my leg to crawl — small triumphs at physical therapy sessions.

I cannot walk. But I can drive my Gogo Sport scooter down the uneven sidewalks of Uptown New Orleans, navigating the tree roots and cracks that make my speedy vehicle bump noisily. I feel such freedom in my scooter. I no longer have to be pushed. Now, I can accelerate up to 5 miles per hour, happily buzzing along to my destination of choice.

I cannot walk. But I can run in my dreams. While sleeping, my legs can still climb, walk, and run. I’m still head-to-head with my peers, and people don’t have to stoop to look me in the eye. I can walk to my table at the restaurant, or up the stairs at the university, or down the stairs in my home. All things I used to take for granted but can no longer do. When I awaken each day, I’m reminded of my new disabilities, but I’m thankful I’m in my warm bed, with a non-leaking roof over my head and a loving husband to attend to my needs. I am lucky. I am absolutely lucky.

Becky Kurtz

Becky Kurtz is passionate about supporting the well-being of older persons. With three decades of experience providing aging services and advocating for elder rights at federal, state, and local levels, she currently leads the work of empowerline at the Atlanta Regional Commission and directs the area agency on aging for metro Atlanta.