Mind & Spirit

Language of legs



To my legs

This is what we do now. It is late, and I am in bed, and the lights have long been flicked off along with the day’s clothes which pile in the chair or a trail from front door to white sheets. I am in bed, and I am listening to the sounds outside, locating each one and giving it a name. (Feral cat, two cars, a back screen door banging, a low hum of talking while a cigarette is smoked.)

I am listening and I am naming.
I am wanting to sleep.
I am hurting.

There is the slight adjustment, the shift from one side to the next, my left hip a glaring road sign pointing toward the placement of origin for pain. And so this is what we do now. We lay here, in bed, and at night, unable to sleep, I begin to envision the bones inside, the lock and socket, the strong and soft, the words I imagine are engraved on them, transcribed from all the years I’ve spent walking through the world with these legs. All the skin and muscle and bone, the extension and the wrapping around her, the running and running through the woods and the cuts into skin that bled out poison and suffering, the tethering to this earth and the curve of calf when feet slip inside shoes that take me home.

God, they are so truly tremendous. Is this why it hurts to hurt? Because of how much good we’ve gone through?

My legs are where the seeker in me lives. Questing, traveling, and traversing. The wandering and roaming and search for the intimate unknown in far off places. Walking is what allows me to be alive and engaged with the world I inhabit, no separation from body and art, as if the very act of moving legs and feet against ground is somehow connected to the creative process of making trails of words into sentences. With the movement of walking, the head clears, thoughts sharpened or else released. The eyes open, and the world becomes a presence my own personhood can relate to and connect with. And I wonder if we would do less violence to the earth and one another if we all had to walk everywhere, see one another, move through the world with love for the legs that release us out and welcome us back, crashing into and around the one we love at night and then bringing us into a waiting world each morning.

We speak a language of legs as walking out and walking away, the leaving, a door slamming on its hinges behind us. But the ten bones from hip to ankle, which is twenty if we count both left and right, is the very map where I find myself. It is where in the movement out and onward, through city street and ocean shore, through Lourdes and Mexico city on the way to her alters, through my own neighbourhood and down the back alley where my cat comes from, I return back to all of me. It is called pilgrimage. Legs are the language then of love, of a kind of devotion, where we leave to find, and we lose layer after layer on our way to what was always whole.

As anthropologist Nancy Louise Frey, writes, “When pilgrims begin to walk several things usually begin to happen to their perceptions of the world which continue over the course of the journey: they develop a changing sense of time, a heightening of the senses, and a new awareness of their bodies and the landscape… A young German man expressed it this way: “In the experience of walking, each step is a thought. You can’t escape yourself.” This is the great gift.

legs IFA

I cannot escape myself. I no longer want to. And so this is what we do now. Sometimes at night, when I cannot sleep, and it hurts, I’m imagining the leg inside skin, hip joint where bone against bone is brutal and unkind, and I’m creating patterns like a kaleidoscope, configuring all the bones and joints into different splayed shapes. What would an X-ray look like of my legs when I stand there in the morning by the counter pressing coffee and trying to remember dreams, one foot planted firmly against hard floor and the other foot arched up so the knee angles out and makes the v-shape of a body waiting for cream to splash into coffee? What would the X-ray reveal of my 12-year-old self right at that moment when feet leave the springboard and the body flies through air before legs come and land against the beam, the colliding of balance and brute strength? What image would configure in the legs in motion, heels clicking again sidewalk and cowboy boots scuffed along dirt and vines where all the trees grow wild? What shape would the bones make when my legs intertwine with hers, fitting together like folded paper cranes, a bed as thick with life as a greenhouse, keeping the cold out while ferns and palms spill out over containers, never once apologising for space taken and the leg over leg making shapes like waxing moons?

The hurt hurts.

I don’t know yet how to navigate this, really.

How I woke up in so much pain one morning. How I recognised it as bone. “It hurts,” I said. “All the way inside the bone, it hurts.” And then the weeks of doctor’s appointments and insurance exhaustion and my left hip raging pain, moving down the leg, and how every other part of my body then tries to compensate and so clamps down and tightens up and now there is the pain and there is the knots around the pain. And then the X-ray which showed the arthritis. Which is just what happens when you have had cancer so young, and the trail of aftermath that happens once the cure came and told you that you were now free.

And then the specialist who looks at the results and the papers and the charts, and then looks up at me and says what I already half way knew but was pretending we were just going to not mention. That given my symptoms being what they are. Given my history. We have to look at the possibility of cancer. We have to do tests. We have to rule things out before we move forward into management of bones that are trying to find new shapes and ways. And so now there are more tests. There is more waiting. There is this, which is my life.

And I’m thinking now of how the walking is what helps most in the waiting. And so my legs which hurt, need the motion and movement as if it is the medicine itself. The one step after another, the rush of world coming to greet you, the way legs in migration bring me back to the Self I cannot escape. The life I would not want to escape, even though it is one that is in the changing place, a transition that feels both lurching and effortless in its sublimity. I’m thinking that this, then, is what I will do. I will wait. I will keep walking. I will lay in bed at night when I cannot yet sleep and I will let what hurts hurt, and I will imagine the shapes of what is underneath skin and the ways things seek to come apart and converge, creating patterns of ineffable wonder and illuminated memory of when the bones crashed into light.

And then the walking gave me what I needed most.

I need a break, I had said to her. I just need a break. I can’t do it. Again. Anymore. I feel like if I don’t, than something more costly will break and it will take a long, long time to mend. And then I gave off the long list of reasons why I cannot do so. Because I was mistaking taking a break with the choice to leave. But the legs, the walking, return me to me, where you cannot escape yourself. And so it was in the very act of walking that it became clear. I cannot leave, though some part of me wants to, to find a way out of all of this, where it hurts and the waiting hangs heavy. Instead, I will return more fully to myself. So it was today, as I was walking, that I thought to myself, “I don’t care. I don’t know what it looks like or means yet, but I’m going to do it. I’m going to give over to the breaking.”

And this is how it happens. This is how trust grows and love takes root. I will listen to myself and believe myself. I need a break I said. And you, my legs said, let’s make that happen then. So today an entire list of things was tossed aside, and much will not happen, and much more will grow because of this. The break is coming so the shapes can keep shifting, the soft underside of the knee kissed and the arrow of the limb extended and the silk knot of sitting and the walking and walking and walking.

Sometimes life asks for what we did not see coming. And to respond will take all of us. That is what this moment is. For me. And my legs, this web of roped muscle and coursing veins and bone that is talking to me always. So I said yes, of course, I love you. And poured us into a hot bath where the joints loosen and the bones speak and the stories taste like gin and rose, a language of legs in all their injury and lust and love.


This article was first published on Lists and Letters and has been republished with permission.

{Photos: from author}

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Isabel Faith Abbott

Isabel Faith Abbott

Isabel Abbott is a writer and activist, embodiment artist and speaker, doula in birth and death and love of life. Her doors are open to sanctuary, raw reality and creative liberation at www.isabelabbott.com, and she writes regularly at www.listsandletters.com.

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