How many times have I taken first steps? I think about my children and grandchildren. What must have been going on in their minds when they mustered the courage to let go of the couch and take their first step...alone...not holding anyone’s hand. They fell...sometimes they cried. But eventually, they tried again, until the exuberance of mobility trumped the fear of falling...and then, the joy and freedom of moving unaided.
As I wait for the physical therapist I reflect on the irony that like an infant I am about to attempt my first steps...but this is more than that. My mind drifts back to the many first steps in my life and how each has required trust and courage to take them.
In 1950...I held my mother’s hand as we walked to our neighborhood school. We stood at the door of my classroom and I faced the reality of being away from the familiar surroundings of my home and the comforting presence of Mom for the first time in my life. But with a few tears, I mustered the courage to cross the threshold and enter into a new and liberating adventure.
What were the other first steps that followed? The first Little League game...I was never that good; the first hike in the woods with the cub scouts; the first time I was allowed to walk anywhere by myself; the first time I served Mass at our church. All of these first steps were at once scary and liberating, and in their own way, they took courage to overcome the fear of failure.
1963...the realization that high school graduation marked a major change in my life...three months later I was off to college in a distant city... the first in my family to take this step...and the first steps that followed over the next four years...the ability to walk alone; to make decisions for myself; to fall and have to pick myself up...to walk away with a college degree and the necessity of supporting myself in the world.
1969...the first steps of marriage...the courage to walk into a life where you were bound to another...sort of like a three-legged race...where you have to move together. At times we tripped, but eventually, we got the hang of it and have walked three-legged together for 50 years.
The years that followed: the first steps of parenthood...awaiting the birth of our children; the first steps of new jobs and new experiences; the first steps of watching our children grow into adults, and the courage to allow them to walk alone...to take their own first steps. And now the joy of watching the steps of our three grandsons.
Aging, injury and the limitation of steps...the realization that we do not walk as fast or as far as we used to...the courage to continue to walk when it would be much easier to sit in a chair...the realization that we must have the courage to continue to walk...to keep moving... to remain active and alive...to live.
Walking into the church with increasing frequency as we bury friends and family...some much younger and healthier than we are. The courage to face the realization that we are in the last laps of our life and the determination to continue the race, albeit much more slowly.
And then the loss of ability to walk at all. Will I be able to walk again; do I even want to try? What if I never regain this ability I took for granted for so many years? But I will still be able to walk in my mind; to travel the paths of memory; to visit familiar places; to relive experiences; to conjure up the faces of those dearest to me...a new time of first steps...until I take my last set of first steps home.