The Art of Walking Slowly
When a back injury slowed my pace, it also changed my relationship with my city
It is my nature to treat every sidewalk like a racetrack. I’ve always been this way, even before living in a city, cursed with a compulsive need to get from corner to corner in world-record time. In my mind, this practice looks a bit like an action movie. I envision myself pole-vaulting over stretched-out dog leashes, gliding through narrow gaps between trash cans and strollers.
In reality, I end up darting in and out of the road, trying to pass the slow walkers who have trapped me behind them without attracting any eye rolls. Though I’m often humiliated at the next corner, when the slow walkers and I all get stuck waiting for the same crosswalk light, I am eventually gifted the satisfaction of passing them all over again.
In May, this changed: After flaunting my gymnastics skills one night to a six-year-old I babysit, I woke up unable to get out of bed, certain that the muscle beside my spine had been swapped out with a brick. I reached for my toes in an effort to sit and then stand, cranking my torso upward an inch at a time only to collapse onto the mattress, where any slight movement would cause a thousand little bees to sting my back. My bed became quicksand; I realized that the only way out was to physically place my legs onto the floor. I grabbed each thigh between my hands and pushed the weight off as though it were foreign. When I came to standing, I felt like a puddle.
In the weeks that followed, I was unable to walk at even average pace. I limped from one end of my railroad apartment to the other and shivered at my reflection in the full-body mirror: a young woman with the posture of a senior citizen, a bulbous lump in my lower back. My acupuncturist groaned at the sight of lost progress.
The sidewalk, a domain over which I formerly felt in control, became its own form of torture. I lagged behind old men and cellphone-talkers while digging my thumb into my back and muttering profanities. In my anger, I felt that I deserved to walk in front of these people. That if I just tapped their shoulder and explained — I wish I could pass you on my own, but I’m injured right now. And, since I’m already accustomed to life in the fast lane, I was…