WONDER sees the everyday as sacred.

Living with a sense of wonder, my word for 2023, is my intention. Being open to surprises, having a sense of curiosity, and having the desire to learn is important to my spiritual practice of “being Benedictine.” Wonder sees the sacred in the ordinary and is a doorway to gratitude, but seeing with eyes of wonder is a much easier proposition when our daily life is comfortable. My sense of comfort was recently challenged.

On a cold, windy February morning, my little dog Bailey did not want to do her business outside. Fourteen degrees in Nebraska, who can blame her? Worried about potentially icy roads and getting myself to school in time, I hurriedly picked up my little dog and headed out to accompany her on a potty trip. After stepping down onto our (apparently icy) landing, my feet slipped out from underneath me. It happened so fast yet every second my body met the icy ground, pain pierced through me–first on my bottom, then as I slid to my left side hitting my elbow sharply. I felt several crunches on my arm as I continued sliding on the pavement finally stopping several feet away. 

I knew immediately I had broken my arm, and later it was confirmed–a fractured ulna and a chipped elbow. The entire event was captured on our doorbell video. I watched it only one time to see if it was as I had remembered. Seeing myself fall has ruined me forever from watching America’s Funniest Home Videos again. Falls that used to crack me up (no pun intended) seem not so funny anymore. 

Wonder is the doorway to gratitude.

Making meaning out of life’s experiences and practicing gratitude is foundational to my spirituality, but much of my broken arm experience (7 weeks to date) has been spent feeling like I am not being very Benedictine. I am grateful for much, but I have also been so tired, irritable, and moody. It has been more traumatic for my body, mind, and spirit than I could have imagined. 

Despite my general crabbiness, I know my injury could have been worse–for that I am grateful. Thank God I hadn’t hit my head and been knocked unconscious. I am grateful that it was my left arm that was broken, and not my dominant right. After a week of wearing a splint, I was grateful to learn that the fractured pieces of my ulna had, amazingly, stayed in alignment. I would not need surgery and instead of needing a cast, I would wear a brace that I could easily remove to shower. A welcome reprieve from the confinement of a splint, there would be enough space to wiggle a pencil through to scratch my arm. (More things to be grateful for at the end of this post.)

Gratitude is an emotion that reflects our deep appreciation for what we value, what brings meaning to our lives, and what makes us feel connected to ourselves and others.

Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown

I thought my attitude of gratitude would carry me through the weeks of convalescence in front of me, but I underestimated the many conflicting emotions I would have–frustration, overwhelm, disappointment, empathy, compassion, and wonder, just to mention a few. Out of 87 identified emotions (and experiences or thoughts that can lead to emotions) in Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown, I have felt no less than 40 of them since I fell. 

Early on I had decided I would be a resilient, strong, and compliant patient. I would remain calm in the face of discomfort or pain, knowing “this too shall pass.” Spoiler alert: I have grown weary, increasingly frustrated, and borderline hysterical from the discomfort and/or pain. Betty the brace–named after my strong, steady, prayerful oblate friend, Betty–has been called many other names besides Betty (Betty, the friend, took no offense.) 

The monastic vow of stability can teach us what it means to stay, not just in a physical place, but also with our own feelings. Nathan Oates who spent time living as a monk, reflects on how unsettling discomfort can be – “…my body, my mind, and my soul rebelled against the discomfort. My reaction to the mild-yet-prolonged discomfort was illuminating. I was convicted by just how committed I am to being comfortable.” (Stability: How an ancient monastic practice can restore our relationships, churches, and communities) 

Despite my preoccupation with my own discomfort, I was humbled knowing my suffering is so small compared to others. Feeling the weight of the world, I wonder how those who have great suffering hold it together? I feel guilty about my own temporary suffering, thinking of those who have permanent limitations to their abilities, who can’t find solutions to their pain, or who lack adequate funds or health care to get help. My heart is pierced with compassion for those who are lonely and need others’ help. Who is there for them? Where can they turn for help? 

The few times I felt my discomfort wasn’t acknowledged by a loved one, it made me think what it might be like to never be seen or heard, or worse to be disqualified as a worthy human. Our response to those who suffer matters. Now that I am not wearing a brace, it may seem I’m back to normal, but I have weeks ahead of me in physical therapy to gain full movement of my arm. It is a good reminder to be compassionate to all for we never know what others may be going through. Standing in solidarity with so many people who suffer, who are sad, hurting, or ignored, is our Christ calling.

All humans suffer…Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of…something we all go through rather than being something that happens to ‘me’ alone.

Kristin Neff (quoted in Boundless Compassion, Joyce Rupp)

Self-compassion can be the antidote to perfectionism and feeling guilty for falling short. Feeling overwhelmed by expectations (that mostly I put on myself), particularly to not miss school, could turn into impatience, self-pity, and weariness. I felt I was an inconvenience or a bother to others because I needed so much help. “It takes a certain humbleness to acknowledge that we require others in our process of self-compassion.” (Boundless Compassion, Joyce Rupp) When I could, finally, lean into a place of compassion for myself and be more merciful, I could let go of judgment, regret, and guilt. 

“Welcome to being human! Competing emotions and contradictory thoughts are messy and can feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, even irritating. But it’s important to remember that this push-pull is a reflection of our complexity, and if we’re willing to stay with it and stay curious, complexity is one of our greatest teachers.” (Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown)

WONDER leaves room for the unexpected, for learning something new.

Although complex emotions come and go (and the sooner the better), they are important to acknowledge, accept and reflect on. They have the potential for good, for gaining new insights, for learning. Gratitude can be practiced with all the emotions to bring meaning and sacredness even in less ideal times. I have journaled much to be grateful for as I have traversed through the wonder of a broken arm.

Gratitude Journal

  • My husband was on a plane to Las Vegas when I fell. Upon landing, he promptly bought a return ticket to get back home that evening. Throughout the weeks, he has been my Uber driver, cook, launderer, comforter, and helper with everything. He has consoled me when I feel overwhelmed.
Joe “Driving Miss Daisy” to Madison, Wisconsin. It was more comfortable to sit in the back seat.
  • After showering for a week with a splint covered tightly in a garbage bag, feeling water on my arm was bliss. Despite the time and trouble to shower, I reveled in the feel of water pelting my elbow, easing the pain. 
  • I had heard that itching with a cast could drive you crazy…now I know.) Scratching my arm when it itches (after the splint was removed), was such a relief!
  • Hearing my own scream, I was jolted awake by nightmares of falling. Thankfully, after a few weeks, the nightmares ended. Throughout my healing, I have had deep sleep at night and many afternoon naps despite the splint or brace. 
  • After 25 years of teaching, I have weeks of accumulated sick leave that allowed me to stay home for 7 school days. 
  • I had time to binge-watch Wisconsin Foodies on PBS, a few Oscar-nominated movies and documentaries, and cheered on our high school basketball team in district competition earning a place at State competition for the first time in 14 years!
  • Sympathy, humor, thoughtful gestures, messages, and conversations did so much to lift my spirit. Fr. Volker and Bro. Tobias exempted me from giving up anything for Lent. My friend, Barb worked patiently for 45 minutes to take my wedding ring off my swollen hand, worried that my circulation would be cut off. 
  • Spring break gave us the opportunity to see our daughter and son-in-law in Wisconsin. They graciously gave us their king-sized bed and larger bedroom to accommodate my need for more space (yes, I had to sleep with the brace on) and they stayed in the guest room. It was a laidback weekend of puzzling, enjoying good food, watching the Oscars, and wildlife moments at the Arboretum. And cheese, lots of good cheese.
  • My friend, Katie who listened to and challenged my un-doing on an emotionally charged weekend helped me practice some self-compassion. Katie reminded me that we are not once and forever complete as spiritually and/or emotionally strong people. We spiral–learning new lessons from our experiences. I would likely continue to feel not one or the other, but both vulnerable and confident (both the child in the straw hat AND the Queen.) 
  • The wonder that is our body, that we can heal over time, is a miracle. I was feeling both amazed at how efficiently the body heals and impatient with how long it takes. I am so grateful for the doctors and physical therapists who have helped diagnose my fracture and help my body heal with the necessary (tortuous) brace and exercises. The healing, which takes time, is happening even while I am feeling frustrated.
  • After five weeks, I was able to wear the brace half-time although I continued to hold my arm as if it was in an invisible sling, likely from both fear and habit. I realized as I relaxed into what I could do with my arm, that I could bend my arm and do more than I thought I could. Getting more comfortable with using my arm was scary and exciting. How often do we not see or realize our fullest potential? How often are we responding in fear?

© Jodi Blazek Gehr, Being Benedictine Blogger