What squeaks can tell you

Squeaky meMy foot squeaks. I noticed it, not for the first time, yesterday in a Tai Chi class. Lest you think I’m a regular on the Tai Chi front, let me preface. I’m currently at a workshop at 1140 Multiversity, which is, to put it mildly, transforming! As part of the weekend, there is also a vast assortment meditation, yoga, tai chi, sound healing, dance…I could go on… available. Why would I want to miss any of that? I’m up for trying new things and Tai Chi has been something I’d been curious about.

The studios at 1440 are beautifully designed with clean wood floors and an inviting atmosphere. They are also quiet. Extremely quiet. The campus is in the middle of the woods outside of Santa Cruz. After lunch I headed to the class with a stranger – no longer a stranger – who I’d become friends with in one of the morning sessions. As we started class, I heard it. The rubber of my prosthetic foot squeaking against the floor.

Awesome.

If I’m honest, I don’t know that anyone else heard it. But I did. Louder than ever. It’s one of the hazards of having a foot that is constructed of fiberglass and rubber. It squeaks every time I walk right now because the foot shell rubs against the main part of the leg.

When it started squeaking in class yesterday, I felt a familiar rise of heat in my chest. Embarrassment. I could blame it on being a hot flash, but I’m pretty sure it was that feeling of being an oddity, of standing out, of unwanted attention being drawn to me.

If you were to ask me about my leg today, my first response would likely be that “it’s no big deal.” Well, that’s partially true. It is a big deal in that I work diligently for it to not be. I don’t want to draw attention to it. Squeaking goes against that.  For a few years in school, with kids I’d known my whole life, I tried embracing the “uniqueness” it created in me. I would use it as a prop. Apparently, my strategy was to use laughter to deflect from how I was feeling. Let’s remember, it was high school. Is there anyone who didn’t feel awkward during that time?

We had an hour bus ride and a driver who loved to tell us to keep our feet out of the aisle. One day, we took my foot off and put it in the aisle. It stands by itself, and there it was, standing in the aisle. We saw him look in the mirror and then look away, he had nothing to say. Well, probably in his mind he mumbled something like, “Damn kids…” As an adult I can say, yep, that sounds about right. We got a great laugh out of that one. I let a friend I’d gone to high school with and then college take one of the old ones and keep it in his dorm window – maybe that was in the leg lamp era. High school is so difficult, I could offer all kinds of hypothesis on why we used the leg for our amusement.

I’m a lot of years past that now. And it’s no longer a prop. The unwanted attention from having something that is “less than” causes a sense of shame. That’s where that heat rises from. And although it comes up frequently, I have chosen, and will continue to choose, to keep plowing ahead. That’s the thing about any challenge in our life, we may feel shame or less than, but we can change our narrative.

I’ve chosen to bring the challenge along for the ride. To hear the squeak in the silence and do it anyways. I wrestle with the feelings, but I also know that every single one of us has a thing. A quality or aspect of themselves that they wish was different. It’s a collective struggle. Remember that. I know that to the degree I’ve struggled, the person sitting next to me has too. I believe that makes us relatable. And when we admit and embrace the challenges together, we’re stronger.

The class I’m in at 1440 is Brave Magic with Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed. There have been a million moments of wisdom during this weekend, but one that speaks to me in this moment is about fear. Whether we like it or not, fear is always with us, but we don’t have to let it drive. We can choose to fight it or choose to be curious about it and understand that it’s part of us but keep going anyways. That’s been my choice. My foot is “no big deal,” but it is a big deal, it’s that I choose to keep going. To manage that fear of being different.  I’m not letting the fear drive.

It would be inauthentic to say fear isn’t part of my equation or yours, I suspect. How can you look at it differently today? Get curious about what it’s trying to tell you. Everyone of us can be brave and do it, whatever it is, anyways. What do you need to thank fear for showing you? After you thank fear…keep going. You are brave.

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