Being Humbled

Being Humbled

1920 1281 Nathaniel Lee Hansen

It has been 2½ weeks since you last played the piano. It has been 2½ weeks since you’ve begun doing as little as possible with your aching right arm. You’re learning (not surprisingly!) how dependent you are on your right hand. Anything that requires you to squeeze your hand or to twist something prompts that sharp pain in your forearm and elbow.

The first Sunday you weren’t playing piano at church, you sat beside your wife, taking sermon notes with your left hand. The writing was slow and labored, as could be expected. Each word you wrote (though there weren’t many) seemed like such an accomplishment, because it was.

You are learning things with your left hand that you have done for years with your right hand. It is as though you’re a child again. For example, you’re teaching yourself to brush your teeth with your left hand. You are still not very adept, the toothbrush jerky in your less-than-confident hand.

The tomatoes, the petunias, the green beans—you use your left hand to shakily pour water over these hopeful plants in the Texas Spring. You remain optimistic: for the plants, for your left hand, for your right arm to heal.

You pour milk from a jug with your left hand, concentrating to minimize the spills and drops. You drink your coffee, in your large mug, with your left hand. You are training yourself to use the computer mouse with your left hand.

You complete your stretches several times a day, and you ice your elbow several times a day. It will be several weeks—perhaps months—before you play disc golf again. You need time to recover, but as the great sage Tom Petty sang, “the waiting is the hardest part.”

But in these inconveniences and frustrations there are pleasant surprises. Using the voice recognition software on your computer is an unexpectedly fun adjustment, despite the learning curve. You have to enunciate. You have to speak in a consistent volume. Wearing your headset microphone, you feel as though you are about to make sales calls, rather than to write slowly and carefully.

You wrote this reflection by speaking, your computer still learning all the particularities of your voice. At least 90% of the words are correct. Today you return to what you drafted, working the mouse with your left hand, typing corrections with your left hand. It is a drawn-out process, but there’s something new and (wonderful?) about slowing down.

You are being humbled so many times a day, and sometimes you’re grateful, and sometimes you’re bitter. You’re learning to be more grateful. When you discussed with your therapist all that has happened, she asked how you’re handling it. The word to which you kept returning was humbled.

You can’t base your worth (or your purpose) on playing piano, on writing (by hand, or computer, or even by speech), on lifting weights, on playing disc golf. Any of those pursuits could be gone in an instant.

So here you are: being humbled; being put in your place; learning what it means to be content in all circumstances.

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Nathaniel Lee Hansen

I’m a poet, fiction writer, and essayist. My chapbook, Four Seasons West of the 95th Meridian, was published by Spoon River Poetry Press (2014). My work has appeared in Christianity and Literature, Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland, Blast Furnace, Driftwood Press, Whitefish Review, The Cresset, Midwestern Gothic, and South Dakota Review, among others. I currently serve as an assistant professor of English & Creative Writing at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas. I also edit Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature and direct the annual Windhover Writers’ Festival. When not writing or teaching, I run, read, play piano, listen to music, and play disc golf. My greatest joys are my wife, my son, and my daughter. I was born in southern Minnesota, but while growing up, I had little interest in the Plains and opens spaces. A stint at a rural state liberal arts college in southwestern Minnesota, as well as grad-school stints in northwestern Minnesota and southeastern South Dakota, altered my interests. @plainswriter, plainswriter.com, & www.facebook.com/plainswriter

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