They do so much for us, you know? They provide stability. They carry us for untold distances. They propel us through the door for our first job interview, hustle us around the bases, help us lift heavy boxes. I’ve used mine to run down the driveway to check the mail, with an exuberant puppy barking at my heels. I’ve used them to drive a car, to stand at the stove to cook dinner, to take a long, hot shower after a hard night of waiting tables. I’ve used them to shimmy my way across the dance floor, to kick a heavy bag, to coax a lover into submission. I’ve used them to walk out of the apartment one last time, leaving a broken-hearted man in my wake. I’ve used them to build a life that I’m proud to call my own. They’re useful, these legs.
At night, sitting on the couch, I put my legs up on the ottoman and cross my ankles. My toes are constantly wiggling – I have trouble standing still. In a month’s time, I’ll be using them to walk across a foreign country, exploring terrain I’ve only seen in photographs. Tomorrow, I’ll use my legs to run a few miles, and to lift weights at the gym. Tomorrow, in a hospital 853 miles away from my front door, my father will have his leg cut off.
It is not the end of a life to lose a limb. But it’s a change. The end of something uniquely yours. None of us on the outside will be able to understand exactly what it is like for him to be losing a piece of his body. Not even those who’ve been in the same situation, really. After all, they had their own memories with their own limbs. Who else but him to remember those nubby, threadbare socks? The way the sewing machine treadle vibrated and thrummed as he sewed upholstery? The crunching of leaves along the paths at Camp Bonner, or getting drenched in ice cold water while rafting down the Nantahala? Who else to remember the rash that grew, year by year, expanding from a small dime to encompassing his entire limb? The pain of the gout in his toes, or the mysterious hardening of his skin? The final infection that he kept quiet for weeks, until it was too late to save his leg?
He will survive, and hopefully he will thrive. A prosthetic leg will let him sew, and woodwork, and cook, and drive. He might even feel better than he has in years. After the surgery. After saying goodbye. And right now he’s not in the mood to do what the doctors tell him they must. He’s heartbroken at the thought of never crunching another leaf, or sewing another cushion.
So now it’s my turn to bear the weight. To help him stand straight and imagine a future where there’s something left to hope for. They do so much for us, you know? I only hope I can return the favor.