Back in March, I fell and injured my knee. There was no bruising, no bleeding, and no swelling. No bones were broken. And yet for some reason I couldn’t straighten or bend my knee all the way, and certain activities caused me significant pain. (Ex: getting in or out of a car, putting on or taking off my pants, climbing stairs.) On the outside everything looked normal, but on the inside something wasn’t right.
At first I feared that I would need surgery. To be honest, I wasted a lot of time and many tears worrying about that possibility. But several doctor’s visits — and even an MRI — revealed nothing to operate on. To my surprise, I was disappointed by that news. As much as I had dreaded surgery, I appreciated the concrete-ness of it. It was a solution. Once it happened, I could heal.
But that wasn’t going to be my reality, and no surgery meant no clarity. As of today, I still don’t know exactly what part of my knee was damaged in the fall. I probably never will. The only “remedy” my doctor could prescribe was time.
He also recommended that I try some physical therapy to strengthen the muscles in my leg, so that those muscles could then ease the burden on my knee. I was assigned half a dozen exercises, totaling half an hour, to be done twice a day. They’re not even as strenuous as most yoga classes. How could this possibly help? I wondered. But after just two weeks, my range of motion improved, and the frequency of my pain decreased. Once again, on the outside everything looked normal, but on the inside things were happening.
It occurs to me now that much of life passes in this way: below the surface, making progress that can hardly be noticed, much less quantified. How close are you to getting that promotion? How much longer until you’re over that breakup? When will your panic and your joy over having a newborn settle into a comfortable rhythm?
Of course it would be great if there were clear, concrete actions that we could take to speed up these processes, but in most cases all we can do is press on and hope for the best. We may feel like nothing is changing, because we have no proof, no measurements. But even the tiniest of improvements add up, like grains of sand, building upon each other gradually, until one day you’re on a beach.
Even though I can’t see it on an X-ray or calculate it in numbers, I know I’m headed toward that beach. Someday I’ll be running across the sand full-speed, with no pain in my knee. I just have to trust that I’m making progress each day. I just have to give it time.