There was a line of dark stone tile embedded in the floor near the west elevators mimicking a balance beam maybe 4 to 5 inches wide and 8 to 10 ft long, seemingly set there on purpose.
A PT led me to it and asked me to walk the line heel to toe without letting my feet slosh over the line. At first I couldn’t do it. My left foot couldn’t stay within the line and if it had been a real balance beam I would have fallen for sure.
Walking the line became a challenge I looked forward to so I could measure my progress as the drifts and wobbles in my body slowly stabilized.
One day I was walking the line while a man was curled up in a nearby chair sobbing over the phone. “She’s gotten worse. She doesn’t know where she is. I don’t know what to do, “ he despaired. The 7th floor housed brain trauma of all kinds and at night especially I could hear the disoriented cries for help and the running feet of nurses. There but for the grace of God I thought as I walked my line.
I got cocky one day as I am prone to do and tried walking the line backwards. Too much, too hard, lots of sloshing over the line. Okay, modest goals, small moves, steady progress would be better.
The PTS were surprised at my long stride as they took me on hall walks. “Do you always walk this way? Is this normal for you to engage your pelvis and push off?” Were they expecting a timid shuffle rather than a black belt stride? I had them puzzled. They worried when there was equipment pushed against the wall or a conference in the hallway. Would I be able to find the center line and not slosh or drift into obstacles?
I loved the challenges. “Look left and walk straight. now look right, or up, or down.” I loved that my body, my training, accepted these tasks and gladly, willingly, successfully responded. Stairs? Yes! Quick turnarounds? Got it! Weaving through obstacles? No problem. Even a Zorba the Greek vine dance crossing my feet over and behind as I snapped my fingers and sang the tune. “Okay we’ve got a live one here.” The PTs and the OTs started running out of room on the checklist…that much closer to being released so I could come home.
But next day on our way home, feeling unzipped and raw and baffled as I rode in the car hurtling along the back way home through the mountains,we suddenly came upon two badgers walking their line across the highway in full daylight, single file, clearly a mated couple. The first one stayed on task and escaped the left front tire. The second one paused, looked directly at its impending death. There was no time for Henry to swerve or brake. A semi was in back of us. If he had swerved the first badger would have been hit. The thump was sickening. Soul crushing. We both burst into tears. The look on the second badger’s striped face as it watched death come–we were undone.
Badger. Fierce, protective, so formidable when holed up in its den. These two walking their line, going somewhere in full daylight, tandem no more. It seemed to me a purposeful sign, a sacrifice, somehow a gift. But I couldn’t understand.
I call Lisa, our Yaqui Indian friend. Lisa, a Southwest flight attendant who spends so much time in the sky, who was there with Henry waiting during my surgery, and who offers the most unusual interpretations of dreams and signs. Lisa, who told me upon my retelling a dream of a horrible raggedy vulture crone sitting on my chest and pointing a horny clawed finger in my face “but Kathy that’s a GREAT dream. Crone power. No more holding back The power to cut through bullshit. To eat and transform carrion, to survive and thrive.” Lisa, who said to Henry “but that’s a GREAT dream when he told her of trudging through sucking mud in the hospital while searching for chewing gum. You’re processing, having to chew and digest and find the vegetative ground under your feet and not get lost or sucked down. The task of finding the gum was paramount, critical to being able to deal with the mud, demanding perseverance.” Lisa, who explained to us what a powerful sign it was to look out the 7th story window and see a red tail hawk circling outside with a live chipmunk squirming in its talons. “Focus, intent, survival, purpose and it’s probably heading for a nest to feed the next generation. Use the power of this sign for your own focus, intent, survival,” she said. Yes, use it to walk the line.
But now the badgers. I catch Lisa at home, press the cell phone against my ear, sob out the story. “It’s a gift,” she confirms. “Say a prayer. Release them. Release yourself. They were walking their path. You are walking yours. All that has happened is you have sent one of them home. That’s where we’re all going anyway. The one left here on this side alone and mateless? That’s the path it must walk now. It’s the circle of life. It’s what we all must do eventually. Breathe. Accept. Stay on the path and remember that a thin line separates life and death.”
I look at the passing cars, the clerk at Starbucks, the strong legged hikers in Buena Vista, each on our own paths. each walking the line, sometimes sloshing over, sometimes true. Sometimes we see each other like the badger looking right at us as our paths suddenly crossed. I resist an impulse to say “hi, I have brain cancer. I see you on your path and I love you.” It’s too much. Because sometimes we don’t look up. We can’t. We can’t acknowledge our path, much less someone else’s. We cannot connect to cross the divide. I see now that that’s because we’re simply on that part of the path.