I’d rather walk like a pigeon than be pinned down like a dissected frog, but at age seven I was instructed I must wear a metal brace to bed—one that twisted my hips open. How I was ever expected to sleep with my heels forced against each other by steel, the toes of both feet pointing to either side, seems insane. I was pigeon-toed—or so I was told. The restraint was supposed to correct my gait. Instead the metal contraption forced me to embrace my so-called deformity.
I can still feel the pain shooting through my hip as both legs were forced into place. Supposedly, I’d be able to walk with my toes pointing forward instead of outward once my bones aligned correctly, but the pain was excruciating. Several nights of torment passed before my parents released my screaming, writhing body from my captor.
From that time on I attempted to correct my toe-in walking so that I wouldn’t ever have to endure that torture device again. I implored family to remind me when they caught me walking pigeon-toed. I practiced walking across the living room, across the yard—anywhere I could take several steps while focusing on doing it “Right.”
Johnny Cash may have walked the line, but so did I. Time after time I walked a tedious path. I choose the path of least resistance, accepting that I walked differently than most children my age. I loved the fact that I had the ability to walk. I hated that I had to practice doing something just because the way that came naturally for me to do it was not acceptable.
The fine line between love and hate is one I often still straddle. I love writing, but hate falling asleep, a story half-written. I love a delicious, healthy meal, but hate eating it in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping. I love the uniqueness that makes me, me, but I hate seeing others struggle to come to terms with their own quirks they believe to be maladies waiting to be overcome.
Each fall I attend a writer’s retreat in Pennsylvania. We begin each morning with a mindful, meditating walk around the many paths surrounding the lodge. One leads to a wire footbridge.
I watched the others in front of me holding the ropes to either side and progressing, one step in front of the other. I was up. I grabbed the ropes, and shimmied my way across, my toes pointing towards each other. Each step was a personal dance, a sway here, a jerk there. The slightest movement creating the biggest shift. The welcoming crowd on the other side clapped and someone said, “I’d never have thought to do it that way.”
They told me I had crossed faster than anyone else. I believe they were right. I’d done it my way just like Frank Sinatra suggested. I’d breezed across the wire naturally. The slightest shift in my perception had created a huge advancement in my thinking. I wasn’t afraid of being different anymore. I had flown pigeon-toed across the metal rather than allowed myself to be held down by it.
The most beneficial path is not always the one most travelled. It is not always the most difficult or tricky—or the most painful. The path for each is different and requires one crucial skill—to be true to ourselves even if it means we straddle the midline on tiptoe and hold on for dear life.
Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County, author of “Rain No Evil” and host of Life Speaks on AIR radio. Access more at soundcloud.com\lifespeaks.