I went for a run about two weeks ago.
The morning was cool and bright with just the right amount of sun and a hint of sweetness in the air, so I headed for the canyon near my house and decided I’d run into the mountains.
I have biked the trail where I was heading dozens of times, and I knew it well. It was steep at the beginning and notoriously crowded. But for all of the occasions I’d seen runners sprinting over the rocks and roots on the powdery dirt, I figured, how hard could trail running be?
It turns out, it’s hard.
After jogging a little more than a mile up the path, my calves were burning and my lungs were tight. But I persevered. I had just turned a corner and hit a short, flat section of the trail when, just for a second, I thought I hit my groove, then — SNAP.
I stepped on a rock and broke my ankle.
The snap sounded more like a “pop.” And it was so loud I heard it over my headphones — so loud I wondered if I heard it at all, or if it was really just something I felt so thoroughly in my entire body that I equated it with something I heard.
In any case, it hurt.
I might still be sitting on that mountain if it weren’t for an acquaintance who passed by on his bike, not 30 seconds later, and insisted I needed help getting back down the trail. He was right. I rode his bike to the bottom of the path, stripped off my sock and shoe and sat in the dirt thinking of ways to elevate my foot.
The doctor at the clinic gave me a walking cast-boot and, somewhat dismissively, said I’d be good as new in three weeks. I left thinking I’d be able to walk to the car, but it was impossible. Putting any weight at all on my foot was impossible. A day later, I sent my husband to the pharmacy to get crutches so I could get to the bathroom without having him carry me.
As the weekend came to an end and I laid on my bed with my leg in the air, the gravity of my situation slowly sank in. I was on crutches, with three little people to take care of — one of whom couldn’t walk and one of whom wouldn’t listen. I couldn’t hold anyone or anything. I couldn’t cook. I couldn’t get the kids in their car seats to go anywhere. Every minute seemed impossible, let alone days and weeks. A shroud of fear, darkness and desperation crept over my heart as I felt completely helpless.
I might still be lying in my pool of desperation if it weren’t for a friend who heard about my injury and, at the peak of my despair, whisked my children away for an afternoon of painting pictures and molding clay unicorns. After that, an army of friends and neighbors — and some strangers — established an assembly line of food and help that led straight through my house. They lifted my burdens and carried me across the chasm until I was feeling better.
I learned something from that ordeal, and it’s something I want my children to know. Something I wish my grandmother, Fleeta, who died before I was born, had been able to tell me.
First, you are not alone — not on the mountain or in the pool of desperation. You are never alone. And you might break your ankle, but look closer and you might see that it was on the left side instead of the right — so you can still drive. And it was the week before school started — so the teens in the neighborhood could help babysit. And you just barely put up the baby gates — so you don’t have to worry about chasing the baby away from the death-trap stairs.
Second, if you are not ever alone, then neither is anyone else. If you’re not the one with the ankle, be the one with the food and the escorted trips for two cooped-up kids. Be the one with the art projects and 7-Eleven Slurpees.
Be the one with the bike, because you never know who you’ll find on the mountain.
Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother, Fleeta.