The knee

Jonah Hall:

What is a knee, really? The thing that holds your leg together. The thing that you need to walk, jog, sprint, bend, crouch, jump, hop, leap, come to a screeching stop. Also, it’s the thing that allows you to move through the day, the non-active day, the thing that gets you into a car, out of a car, up from a couch before dinner, down onto a couch after dinner, and back up from that couch before bed.

A knee suddenly becomes important when you are running late, swerving through the human traffic of airports, sidewalks, baseball crowds, strollers, after the final school bell of the day rings, the mass exodus of students. Avoiding crowds becomes part of life. The knee becomes crucial. The anterior cruciate ligament. The medial collateral ligaments. Crucial. Collateral. Support.

I’ve never really noticed my knees, not for the first twenty-eight or so years of my life. However over the last three or four, the left one started talking to me.

Running in games has allowed me to feel free, enabled me to chase the wind. Running faster than most, sometimes the fastest, helped shape my second-grade identity, gave me a confidence that has stayed with me. Before school, playground football games my brother’s sixth-grade friends lunging and missing a tag in frustration, because of my tiny stutter steps, my shifting of direction. I was a superhero for one play in Pop Warner football, running from one sideline to the other sideline, and finally moving the ball up field, a fifty-yard run out of a broken play, young would-be tacklers again diving, grabbing, struggling to bring me down, and I came through the cloud of opponents still standing, fighting for daylight, shifting, faking, and finally, sprinting into the open.

I’ve crouched for a thousand practice free throws, the same routine each time. Toe the line. Spin the ball. Bounce three times. One more spin. BEND low. Elbow underneath. Rise and release. Watch the ball spin. Watch only the net move. That was the hope. A swish. Put arc on the ball, give it lift, coaching children, bend your knees, give it strength.

Today, I get my knee checked out by a doctor who knows knees. The prospect of a minor surgery lingers in the back of my mind. I know this isn’t a tragedy. I know that in order to stay active into my 60’s, I will need this done at some point. I’m tired of limping for three days after a rigorous hike or a particularly grueling tennis match. I am lucky to have the insurance that I will need if anything serious must be done. This is what a body does. It grows up. It gets bigger and stronger and thicker and more capable. And then, eventually, it starts to talk back, all grown up. It gets tired of being ignored and eventually shouts. It slows the pace down and makes you think, forces you to plan, demands that you stop running late. Or stop running at all.

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