June 10, 2016

Vagabond Traveler: Walking Lame…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:00 pm


…When you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk
wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch
out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you
where you do not wish to go.

—John 21:18

It’s been coming at me right along, life has. And it’s been going pretty well. Still, it’s felt a little strange, lately. I’ve been walking, traveling through. And in more ways than one, it feels like I’m walking lame.

I wasn’t looking for anything out of the ordinary when they told me. Well, I wasn’t looking for much of anything at all back when those shell-shocked days were winding down. I was focused on one thing, pretty much. I was getting ready to leave the hospital after ten intense and brutal days. After where I’d just been, it didn’t matter much to me where I was going, just as long as it was out of that place.

And the doctors came at me, all rat-a-tat, in my face. Eat this. Don’t eat that. Watch your diet, take your meds. Walk real careful for a while. Well, walk real careful for the rest of your life. You’re pretty much an invalid now, and you will always be weak. Your heart will never beat strong again, not like it did before. And then they flung it in sideways, just kind of tacked it on as an afterthought. Oh, and go get a colonoscopy. You’re over fifty. It’s time. We’ll schedule it for you. And I just nodded obediently at everything they said. There wasn’t much else to do, looking back. I felt like an old man, beaten and battered and bruised by life. I’d figure out how lame I was walking soon enough.

I got home, and gradually worked my way to a new balance in life. Got to where I didn’t panic or freak out at every little bump that came along. And, in time, I got my heart strength back, too. Back to full strength, a thing they had told me again and again would never come to pass. I wrote that journey as it came at me.

And the doctor’s people got me scheduled to go see a colonoscopy specialist. Like I said, I didn’t think much about it, one way or the other when they yammered at me to do it. You’re supposed to go get your colon checked out when you’re fifty, at least that’s what I vaguely remember hearing. Not that I ever paid much mind to such things. You think you’re invincible until you walk up and peer down the dark deep hole like I did. After you pull back from such a thing, you go and do what they tell you.

I didn’t pay it much mind as the date approached. And it was sometime in late January that I strolled in for my appointment. Dr. Brown, the guy who saw me, was extremely competent and gracious. He looked over my records on his computer. We chatted a bit. “So you had some heart issues?” he asked. Yep, I said, holding my thumb close to my forefinger. More than just issues. I came this close to leaving. He made the proper astounded noises, and then he told me. “You’re on different meds. This is a routine checkup procedure. Let’s wait a few months and see how you get along. Maybe you’ll be off a few of those meds by then.” Works for me, I said. And on the way out, I made another appointment about two months down the road. And I went home and settled back into my daily routine. I didn’t think about the upcoming colonoscopy for a long time. Out of sight, down the road, out of mind.

And the two months shot by, and next thing I knew, I was sitting and talking to Dr. Brown again. Yep, I told him. I got rid of the most toxic drug. I don’t have to take it anymore. And I’m figuring to get rid of a few more, too, down the line a ways. My heart’s been beating good. And he told me. “We’ll schedule you right in, for the procedure. You can come here, to this facility. The whole thing won’t take long at all. You should be in and out of here in less than two hours.” I stopped up front on my way out, and me and the nice lady found a date and time that would work for me. She penciled me in. “And just wait a minute,” she said. “I have some instructions here for you.”

And it was right at the moment she got the instructions laid out on the desk there, right then that I realized this little procedure was a bit more involved than I had ever figured it would be. She went over everything with me. All three pages. She circled a line here with her pencil and highlighted a paragraph there with her marker. And she talked and talked. No solid foods for a full day before the procedure. Go pick up this prescription for a cleanser, and do that right away. And here’s what you do with that. And blah, blah, blah, and instruct, instruct, instruct, and so on and on. I looked at her and nodded, half stunned. And muttered, yes, yes, as if I grasped everything she was saying. One thing was clear. This was way more complicated than I thought, and it wasn’t going to be a picnic. No part of it was.

But I left, then, and didn’t worry about it much. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, and all that, is what I thought to myself. And soon, very soon, the evil day approached. And I got serious. Dug up the printed instructions and pored over them. Go buy 32 ounces of Gatorade. The day before, you eat no solid food. And after six that night, you eat no food at all. It didn’t sound like fun. But I dutifully followed the instructions, right down to the T. Do what you have to, to get to where you need to go. And it was all going pretty well, I thought, the day before. Until lunch time, at least. I had brought my lunch along to work, a little bottle of apple juice. That would be my lunch. I drank down the cold liquid. I didn’t feel half bad. And a few minutes after that, it hit me. I tried to make like nothing was wrong, but it was just impossible to ignore the sharp and stabbing and absolutely unbearable pain of a rear lower wisdom tooth that wanted out.

There was a cavity in that tooth, I knew. It had been hurting some, off and on, for a few months. And I did what I always do when a tooth starts acting up. I ignored the warnings and hoped the pain would go away on its own. Or at least not hurt so bad. Oh, sure, I figured it would hurt enough eventually that it would have to come out. Some day. But not that particular day. And I gritted hard when the pain came stabbing in. It’s been years since I’ve felt pain like that. There is no pain like a real toothache. And I dug around the medicine cabinet and grabbed a Motrin, or some such thing and swallowed it. That should help. It didn’t. That tooth was hurting bad, and it was gonna keep hurting bad. I could tell. And I thought, good grief. Here I am, half lame and wounded from getting ready for one medical procedure. And now this comes along. I mean, I guess you could figure it would. I shouldn’t be surprised. And the pain kept shooting out in great piercing stabs. And I knew I had to find a dentist. An emergency dentist. It didn’t matter who, as long as he could pull a tooth.

Any yeah, yeah, I know. I don’t have a dentist. I had to go find one. Here’s how that is. I brush and floss my teeth every day. Religiously. I’ve done that for decades and decades. But I don’t have a dentist. I avoid those people like the plague. They always launch into great pious lectures about everything you did wrong in not taking care of your teeth. They look disdainfully down their noses at you. I’ve seen it and heard it all before. And I just don’t feel like hearing it again, ever. I’ll go to see a dentist when I have to, was my motto. Not before.

Well, I was going to have to go now. That I knew right after the tooth started stabbing. It’s been a decade since I’ve had my teeth worked on. Last time was right at ten years ago, when a filling fell out. Ellen knew a dentist over in Lebanon, and I managed to slip in and out with minimal hassles. And that was the last time. So now, I had no idea where to turn.

You do what you gotta do in a time like that. Google emergency tooth extraction. And Google delivered. There was a list, of course. There always is. Lord, let this be a good dentist, I breathed, as I dialed the top number. A man answered. I didn’t hem or haw around, just launched right in. I got a tooth that needs to get yanked, I told him. Can you help me? “We can fit you in as soon as you get here,” he said. “Dr. _____ is here now. He can help you.” And he gave me directions. I thanked him and got ready to head out. Not sure what to think about any dentist who can fit you right in, I thought. Maybe he’s no good. Half an hour later, I pulled into the drive of a small house with a sign out front. Dentist. Looked like a one-man operation. It also looked like a non-scolding operation. Good.

The assistant’s name was Greg, and he and the dentist were the only two souls in the place. I filled out my information sheet and told Greg I had no insurance. I’ll just pay with a check. I need this tooth pulled. Greg took some X Rays of my jaw and then led me to the back room. I settled in the dentist’s chair for the first time in a long, long time. And the man came strolling in, dressed in white scrubs. The dentist. An older guy, tough, hard bitten. Looked like he’d been knocked around a good deal by life. He greeted me curtly. “Looks like we need to get that back lower tooth out of there,” he said. No lectures about anything. That was good. Just yank it out, I said. And then I happened to mention. I’m on a blood thinner, for my heart. The hard-bitten dentist recoiled. “You’re on what?” he snapped. “I’m glad you happened to mention that. I’m not sure I can help you.”

And I groaned. Something always has to crop up, to make things more complicated. Let me call my doctor, I said. I got the number right here. And sitting there in the dentist’s chair, I made the call to Dr. B, my heart doctor. Someone actually answered, a guy. I told him what was going on. I need to know if the dentist can pull my tooth, I said. And after some haggling and dealing back and forth, I was told. Stop taking the blood thinner today and tomorrow. The morning after that, he can pull your tooth. I passed the info on to the hard-bitten dentist. “That’s fine,” he said. I can take you Thursday morning, first thing.” But what am I gonna do with all this pain? I asked. “I’ll drill down and kill the nerve,” he said.

And he numbed my jaw and grabbed his drill. That high shrill scream has always made me shiver. That and the hot smoky smell of burning tooth and seared and severed nerves. He had my tooth drilled and dead in twenty minutes. He packed it out and told me to bite down. That will hold until you get back. Greg wrote out a bill, and I wrote a check. Now, on for home, and an evening of fasting and drinking that cleansing crap for my colonoscopy the next day. Walking out and driving home, I felt like an old man, beaten and battered and bruised and lame.

That evening I drank lots of Gatorade, mixed with a lot of that vile white cleansing powder. It cleansed me, all right. It wasn’t all that bad, though, nothing like the horror stories I had heard told. And I slept OK that night, and woke up and drank the remainder of the vile concoction the next morning. And soon after lunch my sister-in-law, Wilma, pulled in. She would drive me to the clinic for the procedure. I got in, and off we went. We chatted. I remember the last time you took me to the doctor for a simple procedure, I told her. Last November. I didn’t get back home for ten days. I hope this trip doesn’t turn out like that.

It didn’t. Everything went more smoothly than I could possibly have hoped for. Right on time, a nurse stepped out and called my name. And she led me back and into a little curtained room. Explained how things would come down. I changed into a gown, and minutes later my stretcher was being pushed over to a side room. A couple of people were waiting. Blood pressure. Heart rate. An attendant stabbed a large needle into my wrist and hooked up a hose. And I was off, for a little nap. A very short time later, I awoke back in the curtained room. I felt rested. The nurse popped in and told me everything had gone great. And then Dr. Brown stopped by. He’d removed one very small polyp, and it wasn’t malignant, he was 100% sure. He would send me a report. We chatted a bit, and I thanked him. I’m sure glad it turned out well, I said. I’m relieved. We shook hands. And he told me. “Come back and see me in ten years.” I think I can do that, I said.

Wilma took me back home, and I wasted no time cooking up a nice little feast of real food. No more fasting for me. I felt relieved that it was all over. But still. One more little barrier remained. Tomorrow morning. My tooth would come out. Oh, well. Tonight I will eat and be merry. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

A few minutes after nine the next morning, I was sitting all tense in the dentist’s chair again. The hard-bitten dentist numbed my jaw again, and laid out his instruments. And as he got ready to go in and drill, he told me. “A tooth like that, back there like that. It’s either going to pop right out, or it’s going to take an hour to get out.” Oh, God, I prayed. Please let the thing just pop right out. The hard-bitten dentist stuck a pliers back in there and started prying and yanking around. No good. And then, out came the drill. The man knew what he was doing, and he knew what he was talking about. He hacked and sawed and drilled and cut and swore and drilled and hacked and sawed some more. After about fifteen minutes, I figured the Lord wasn’t hearing me, so I quit praying.

And exactly to the minute, one hour in, the tooth came popping out. By this time the hard-bitten dentist was so exhausted and exasperated that he simply laid the tooth on the little table beside me and walked out of the room. Greg the attendant gave me penicillin pills and water and packed the gaping hole with gauze where the tooth had been. “Bite down,” he told me. “Keep the pressure on. Take the gauze out in an hour. If it keeps bleeding, repeat.”

I nodded and muttered incoherently. There wasn’t a whole lot I could say. I followed Greg back up to the front, and he wrote out my bill. I wrote him a check, then hollered into the back room as I turned to leave. Thank you, Dr. ______ . And the hard-bitten old dentist yelled back in a muffled voice. “You are welcome, Ira. You did good. You were a trooper.”

Nursing my frozen jaw, I walked out and got into my truck and drove off. Right about then, I needed some tender loving care. I felt pretty beaten and battered and bruised and lame.

I’ve been feeling a little bruised and battered and lame in a few other ways, too. It’s strange, how it came to be. Right after I got out of the hospital last fall, the world was a very scary place. The doctors yelled at me. Make sure you take these meds on schedule every day. No salt. Not one drop of alcohol, ever again. You touch one drop, and you will fall over dead. I grumbled at them in my mind and quietly rebelled against them in my heart. But I listened. Not a lot of choice there, I figured.

The months slipped by, and the first thing I knew, I had found a decent rhythm. I felt pretty confident. There was joy, there, in life again. And the next thing I knew, I had been totally dry for four solid months. That’s a long stretch of time. You detox naturally, when that happens. And the thing was, I felt it. And it felt real good, to wake up in the morning, all fresh and ready for the day. I marveled at the difference. And yeah, I still pined in my heart. And grieved, some. A drink. It was never far from my mind, I always wanted a drink. And those first four months came and went, and not once did I consume even so much as a single drop.

And it was around that time, just before my colonoscopy was coming up and my tooth went haywire. About right then, so help me, there came a voice inside my head. Persistent, small and still, but there. You’ve come a long way, my son. You got your head cleared from that fog, that alcoholic haze. Never mind that you got it done because there was no other choice. You got it done. Now I want you to look inside you. Examine your heart. Can’t you see how it’s full of dark, hard things? It’s full of unforgiveness and rage and shame. I want you to do something about that. Now that you know, now that you can see. I want you to go and get yourself cleaned out. I want you to do that so you can walk free, so you can live free.

I recoiled, startled. And I bristled back pretty hard, especially right at first. Ah, come on, Lord. I was just minding my own business, here. Why are you sneaking up on me like that? It’s not nice. Haven’t I been through enough crap, don’t you think? And now you want me to look inside myself? What kind of freedom is that? Of course there’s some rage in there, and of course there’s some unforgiveness and shame. Of course there is. But isn’t that understandable? I mean, look at where I’ve been. Look at what I’ve seen and felt. And it’s not my fault, either. I got a right to hold on to a few little shreds of what I’m holding on to, I claim. So what do you mean, you want me to examine myself? What do you mean, you want me to do something about it? Can’t I have a little peace and rest, here? Why do I have to go looking for more stuff to feel bad about?

That’s how I grumbled at the Lord. With thoughts like that and words like that.

The small, still voice stayed small and still. But it would not stop, would not go away. It stayed. Persistent. I wasn’t losing sleep, and the voice wasn’t incessant, as in always there, twenty-four hours a day. But I could never quite shake it off, the quiet noise of it. Listen to me. I know what’s best for you. You claim you want to be healed, and I believe you. I know you want to be free. Free to live and free to write, and free to speak your voice. Go, then, and get yourself some help. I will show you the way.

And so I finally gave up and shrugged. Out of sheer exhaustion, I suppose. I mean, how long can a guy go walking around arguing with voices in his head? Not for long. You’ll get locked up in some padded room, somewhere. OK, I said. I’ve come this far. I’ve been to the gates of death. I have seen the outer darkness of the wilderness. I looked at it all, right up close, and never flinched. You brought me back from that desolate place, you brought me back to a land where there is life and joy. I will never be afraid again. And yes, I want to be free. If you want me to examine what’s inside me, I’m listening. I’ll do what you want me to. Just show me how.

And the small, still voice was very calm. You need a man to talk to, a friend, someone who will listen and not judge. And you need to tell him what you have kept hidden inside you. The rage and the shame. Especially the shame. It must be someone you can totally trust. And right then, a name and face drifted in and out of my vision like a mirage. Yes. That was the man. Sam. My counselor. The guy who had tried, had labored so tirelessly to keep Ellen and me together, way back. Those were brutal and bitter days. And it didn’t work, then, in the end. I guess we were beyond help. But he was a good man, and my good friend. We had not connected in years. Now, it was time again.

All right, Lord, I said, resigned. I got it. I will reach out to Sam and see if he’ll see me. The small, still voice went quiet, then. And my heart was very calm.

One morning not long after that, Sam smiled in welcome as I walked into his office for my first appointment. And we shook hands and chatted and caught up, two comfortable old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a while. We’re both a lot more worn and battle-scarred than we were years ago when we first met. And then we got down to the reasons I had sought him out after all this time. I didn’t want to come, I told him. But I got my head cleared from the alcohol. And there didn’t seem to be any other way out. So here I am. I have some hard things to tell you. Some things I’ve kept covered up inside, some things I need to work through. I’m not sure how it’s going to go, the telling of it. Or the healing of it. All I know is I just want to be free.

I think it’s going to take a while to get to where I want to go. And it feels like I’m walking lame to get there. But still, I guess I’ve always figured. It doesn’t matter if you’re walking lame. As long as you’re walking.



  1. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.-Isaiah 35:6

    Keep walking, my friend…keep walking… :)

    Comment by Cathy — June 10, 2016 @ 6:38 pm

  2. Such a brutally honest account of your soul searching, Ira! I love your message and your renderings of health hazards…don’t we all relate? I don’t golf, never will, but the hazards, the rough, the fairway, the putting green…you seem to be walking on the green and getting ready to make a putt in the hole…no matter the score, no matter the clubs you have, you are there and it’s a beautiful site…you’re winning Ira…you really are! The demons are just fading away and it’s a glorious tournament you are playing in! Thank you, Lord!

    Comment by Pam — June 10, 2016 @ 8:48 pm

  3. First of all, back in the 60’s a colonoscopy required staying awake, laying on your belly on a cold table and being turned upside down. Surprising we survived. I also think when we age we all have those long talks with God. “Aw come on God you want me to do what?” But God has a good sense of humor as we age or he wouldn’t make us look like we do. (sigh)

    Comment by carol ellmore — June 10, 2016 @ 9:03 pm

  4. Powerful.

    Comment by Debra E Vida — June 10, 2016 @ 11:42 pm

  5. Ira, A great blog, I was inspired. I love the analogy of getting cleaned out physically, and emotionally. After my bout with addiction, it was what kept me sane..Shame was a big issue for me as well..bless you on your journey Ira!

    Comment by Ruth AnnStoll — June 11, 2016 @ 12:15 am

  6. Sweet Jesus, it’s really scary how you can cut your wrists and let it all bleed out! So much pain, so thankful you have someone to help you. So longing for you to find that “soft place to fall”. So praying for your continued strength, and recovery!

    Comment by Gay racina — June 11, 2016 @ 12:37 am

  7. “Hey now, it’s a little deep
    Hmmmmm, hmmmm
    I’m tired, broken, innocence stolen
    And I know I’m, a different man
    See life hits, and life hurts
    Think I’ve seen, some of life’s worst
    But you’ve been here, so you understand
    See I fell, and I broke something
    But I couldn’t tell, cause I kept running
    Away from, your love and grace
    So my trips, and my pains
    My failures, they only make
    Me desperate, to seek your face

    The devil hoped this injury would make me stop
    And take defeat, but I know Jesus walks with me
    So I’ll just keep on walking with my
    Limp, limp, limp, limp, uh huh
    Just keep on walking with my
    Limp, limp, limp, limp uh huh
    Just keep on walking with my
    Limp, limp, limp, limp uh huh
    Just keep on walking with my
    Limp, limp, limp, limp uh huh

    I’m imperfect, so I slipped up
    And I had my heart, ripped up
    But you’re lifter, of my head
    So please come, and please heal
    How I think and how I feel, and I’ll live by what you say
    And you said

    Heavy laden come to me
    The sick, the flawed, the lame, the weak
    And I’ll be everything you need
    So I’ll just keep on walking with my
    Limp, limp, limp, limp, uh huh
    Just keep on walking with my
    Limp, limp, limp, limp uh huh
    Just keep on walking with my
    Limp, limp, limp, limp uh huh
    Just keep on walking with my
    Limp, limp, limp, limp uh huh

    Limps are, every weakness
    Limps are every flaw
    That keeps us, from having, an otherwise perfect walk
    And we were born, handicapped
    But God gives, us strength back
    And all that you lack, if you just keep on walking with your limp

    I’ll pursue, my victory
    Cause when they beat you, you look just like me
    You were struggling, with your passion, and your love
    It kept you walking with your limp
    Calvary walking with your limp
    No matter what they said, you kept walking with your limp
    Yea that’s my Savior with His limp
    Just so one day,
    I could walk with my
    Limp, limp, limp, limp,
    And I could still be loved, even with my
    Limp, limp, limp, limp
    And I could still be used, even with my
    Limp, limp, limp, limp
    And I could still be saved, even with my limp
    Ohhhh, so I’ll just keep on walking
    Even with my limp”

    -Jonathan McReynolds

    Comment by RAM — June 11, 2016 @ 1:23 pm

  8. I was just having a conversation and finally verbalizing, after years of walking: there is a difference between suppressing sin to live moral and really allowing God to get at the root so you are free.

    Without the burden of managing self, there is more time and “space” to experience life and walk with others. It makes me think of the passage at the end of Luke, Jesus walking along on the road to Emmaus.

    Comment by LeRoy — June 11, 2016 @ 2:21 pm

  9. Stories are good & sharing as you do is even better. Sharing from the soul I would believe comes from both wisdom & a appreciation of life when the distractions are removed. Thanks for the sharing of some of what matters most to you.

    Comment by P. Klassen — June 11, 2016 @ 6:14 pm

  10. Respect. For the shame you might carry, I respect you, Ira, man to man, for baring your soul. You have strength, a fiercely incredible inner strength, that makes me take my hat off to you and say, “There stands a man.” We all fight different battles, but most of us choose to hide behind facades.

    Remember Maximus from the movie Gladiator? To you, I say, “Strength and Honor.”

    Comment by Ray — June 11, 2016 @ 7:10 pm

  11. A loud Amen to LeRoy’s comment.

    Kudos to you, Ira, for having the guts and courage to get your heart and hands greasy and torn with the messy work of soul repair.

    I love how the Scriptures showcase God using broken humble people to do His work. And how He redeems our broken places as we lay our stuff honestly and humbly before Him.

    If we are willing, it seems that each decade of life brings us to being more fully honest before God and more open to His revealing of who we really are. And aren’t. Hard chiseling truths, both. But joyously freeing.

    Comment by Ava — June 11, 2016 @ 7:20 pm

  12. WOW! You are leading the way for others to get free. It makes me want more of that freedom, too! Keep it up. You are on a roll!

    Comment by Kathy Dean — June 12, 2016 @ 9:01 am

  13. You are on the move spiritually. I commend you for listening to God’s voice inside you. Thank you for posting from the depths of your inner being.

    Comment by Rosanna F. — June 12, 2016 @ 2:57 pm

  14. Yup..when the love affair with alcohol comes to an end ,dark little hard things with voices start in.If they are’nt shared and exposed to the light,other little voices tell one that maybe that relationship with John Barleycorn was the easier,softer way.And that’s the big lie,for it never is.It just gets worse because it’s a progressive thing.The walls of the four church’s from Old Order to progressive Mennonite helped some,along with a little therapy.But none of that was the final answer for me.Just couldn’t get that concept of a loving God who would do anything for me,BUT,if I broke the rules and regulations there was a fire pit waiting for me.Really.?Now what kind of a loving dad does that?I don’t know of any.A tiny bit of willingness,a touch of humility,a God spark in all the darkness.The suggestion to get into the rooms where my kind went for healing.Didnt want to go,was sure it couldn’t work.It did and it has for many years .That was the solution for me along with an incredible freedom and discovery of a loving spiritual God who takes care of all my needs..if I let him.It’s all about meeting self..nothing else…keep us posted…it might be a long strange trip..peace to all..

    Comment by lenny — June 12, 2016 @ 3:13 pm

  15. Ira, you’re an original, with a voice like no one else. I always look forward to reading your posts.

    Comment by Cynthia Chase — June 12, 2016 @ 6:11 pm

  16. Reasons I like you. 1. You’re a good person. 2. You’re highly entertaining. :) 3. You’re determined. (pondered the use of “bullheaded”) 4. You’re not a wimp. But, that said, I think you have a tendency to be too hard on yourself. I’m hoping that comes out in counseling. See this thing to the end. Nothing beats self content. A tick just crawled across my screen. That’s weird.

    Comment by lisa — June 14, 2016 @ 10:56 pm

  17. Wow. Very powerful words. Thanks for sharing your journey – you are an inspiration. Hope that is all your physical health issues for a while.

    Comment by Deb — June 16, 2016 @ 11:23 am

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