Tethered and unfettered

I walk my dog twice a day near our town athletic fields, so there are people I see there on a regular, even daily, basis. It’s quite an array of humanity and languages: cricket players from Pakistan who practice bowling and batting in the early mornings on the otherwise empty basketball courts; groups of Italian and Armenian men, walking around the track very closely together and shouting their entire conversations in their native tongues; groups of Muslim women circling the track in various styles and degrees of hijab; a woman who runs get-in-shape “bride-to-be bootcamps,” wearing fatigues and barking like a drill instructor at the women in her classes; groups of Chinese men who get together to play tennis several times a week. You get the idea. In short, there’s a whole world of sights and sounds just steps away from my front door.

The most regular walkers on the track that encircles the soccer field are a couple I’ve seen nearly every day for the past six years, sometimes twice a day. I’m not sure if they’re husband and wife or brother and sister. I’ve heard the story told both ways. Apparently, the man used to be a firefighter. One day he was caught in a burning building as it was collapsing. I’ve heard that he rescued anywhere from one person to an entire family to all the family’s pets. Every story I’ve heard about him ends with the fact that he was nearly dead when his fellow firefighters pulled him free. He was badly burned and hospitalized for months afterward. Now, at least twice a day for at least half an hour each time, he and his sister/wife walk laps around the track. He always has on big sunglasses, a hat, and headphones that cover his ears. He mostly wears shorts, even in the winter. Even from a distance of 20-30 yards, I can see that his legs have been badly burned. In the summer time, he is often shirtless, and I can see from even farther away that his upper body and arms are mottled with burn scars.

Burned Man walks slowly, and with a hitch in his short, hopping steps. After watching him take lap after lap around the track over the years, I’m guessing that the hitch is because his legs don’t have much of a range of motion as a result of the burns. Wife/Sister walks slowly next to him, talking to him, even while he’s wearing these huge headphones over his ears. She is always on his left, and there is always a curly cord, like an old boingy telephone cord only thinner, that tethers them to each other at their wrists. For every step of hers, he takes two or three hitchy, hoppy steps. Sister/Wife calls out to me and/or my dog on a regular basis, and I have developed a kind of a connection with these two people that is purely based on saying hello, commiserating about the weather, and admiring the clownish nature of my dog.

This morning was a picture-perfect New England spring day: sunny, cloudless, breezy, cool, no humidity. The grass glittered with dew in the early morning light. Flocks of Canada Geese nibbled their way across the sparkly soccer field, honking their alarm upon seeing the dog. As I watched Burned Man and Wife/Sister make their slow, steady progress around the track, their visible connection – that curly cord – really struck me.

Since I have never seen them walking without that cord connecting them, it occurred to me that maybe the cord that tethers them to each other is also a means of living an unfettered life – free of restrictions. Maybe Burned Man would be housebound without someone willing to tie on and walk beside him. Maybe the experience of nearly losing Burned Man, of seeing him suffer through the agony of recovering from being so badly burned over so much of his body, of knowing all that she could have lost makes Sister/Wife relieved, happy, and grateful to be connected to him in such a tangible way.  Maybe it’s easier to walk at someone else’s painstaking pace when the alternative is to live without them.

Tethered and unfettered.  Maybe that’s what makes you strong.

“That’s What Makes You Strong,” by Jesse Winchester from his album “Gentleman of Leisure”

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7 responses to “Tethered and unfettered

  1. Richard Howard

    The first and last thoughts for me, in reading “Tethered and Unfettered” this morning were about my friend who walks with me nearly every day. After my second hip preplacement (2004), and during my transition from cane to unaided walking, I began walking in my neighborhood with my friend. He could have walked much faster than I, but slowed to my halting pace for weeks as I regained strength and range of motion. We talked of everything and anything, his humor sparkling with subtle metaphors and put-dows of the weird policies of various politicians.

    The experience was freeing to me, as without comment he slowed to my pace and brightened my mornings. We still walk together, but not every day. His Parkinson’s is complicating his life and his mornings. So when we walk now I tend to slow my pace just a bit to his, and we still have these riotous conversations, usually mentioning some of the more ridiculous antics of the “HELL NO!” political party and its devotees, determined to bring down the White House incumbent before 2012; baseball; football; the range of world social/economic issues; the beauty of bridsong and flowers all around us.

    He’s my friend, and I’m leaving now to walk with him. Life is good. Life is hard. Life is that blessed tethering and freeing mix of sensory experiences offering new dimensions and promise in the midst of perplexity.

    Thanks, joyhowie, for reminding me of the limitless strength of friendship! Give your golden Lucy a soft pat on the head from me, this day.
    dad

  2. I am so pleased that you are writing for this blog, Joy. I look forward to your posts, and very much appreciate your evocative style of writing.

  3. barbara howard

    I have the privilege of sleeping as late as I want to, Saturday or anyday. Today was one of those lazy days. I read your post while my beloved is tying up a rose bush climbing our tree in the front yard. My beloved walks; I sleep. Tethered and unfettered is the best descrption of marriage. Now, we’ll work together the rest of the day, spend time with our grandson, wish you and yours were here, and celebrate sunshine. This is the first bright day in a week. You are the first bright light of my late morning. Mom

  4. Girlie girl,
    per usual your musings are crystal clear heat felt and insightful and makes me look again at myself, family, friends, the world around us in a different way. I have always loved your writing so glad to have it back n my life.

  5. Bill Bird Jr.

    Makes me think, when I bicycle ahead of my wife and kids or anyone else slower than me on a bike. I should slow down.

  6. One of my dearest friends from my teenage years was black (British mum, Jamaican dad), Christian and gay. Not quite the quadruple but almost! Within our friendship he shared many things that a white, middle class English girl may otherwise never have experienced. He ensured that I faced my pre-conceptions and prejudices and he pushed me to ask questions that I still demand the answers to. I relished the way he forced our faith movement beyond its comfort zone.
    We shared in service corps, worked camps together and enjoyed many experiences with the Holy Spirit during those years. I enjoyed a friendship which I think would be unlikely outside of the Christian faith.
    Jozimba and I were tethered by friendship, but as we walked together I was freed, unfettered to explore life more fully. I became strong. For that I will always be grateful.

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