Okay, I'll admit. Last week I was moping. I'm over it now, but I was moping pretty hot and heavy for a while there. The reason was because I learned I'd torn my ACL for the second time, and now over the summer, instead of running a triathalon sprint with my daughter like I planned, I'm going to have surgery and physical therapy. So I moped.
I'm over it now, and I apologize to everyone, especially my wife and my friend Mike Burr to whom I subjected the intensest bombardment of mopiness radiation.
At this point I will digress to tell a seemingly unrelated story from my childhood, which at the end of, I will tie together in a way that will not only return to the theme of my torn ACL and my erstwhile mopiness, but touch on some universal of the human condition and give the reader a thought to ponder.
One Christmas I got a lunchbox. Those were simpler days, of course, but I don't want the reader to infer that was all I got; I got a host of other goodies; nevertheless, it's the box I recall. It was black with two chrome snaps, exactly like the one used by Ralph Cramden on the Honeymooners. Better yet, it had a matching thermos with a twist-off cup and lid which I imagined carrying tomato soup.
School was out, but I played with my lunchbox all morning. Actually, "played with" is too strong a phrase; the lunchbox was a passive though crucial part of my game. I stowed it in my tricycle's back basket of and pedaled like wild around the carport. I was heading to work! I was running late! I'd nearly left my lunchbox with its thermos of tomato soup! In short, I was playing Ralph Cramden, or if not him, an amalgam of mildly comical adults in the midst of their busy lives with places to go and things to do, unlike me who had no better use for his time than pedaling a tricycle with an empty lunchbox around the carport .
I took a sharp turn and tipped over. I was unhurt, but from the direction of the lunchbox, I heard an unexpected tinkling. I unscrewed the thermos and discovered that in addition to its screw-on cup and lid it had another, unsuspected chamber which unscrewed as well. When I did this, out issued a rain of little silver mirrors. I understood nothing of the the principle by which a thermos maintains the temperature of liquids, yet I knew without needing an adult to explain, that in some way I had broken it, completely and irreparably, and that while it might appear a thermos to the outward and casual eye, it was a thermos in fact, no longer.
Nothing can match the matchless shame of a five year-old. I told no one. I picked up each silver shard and threw it in the garbage can, something in my throat and stomach as dark and heavy as the thunderclouds that rolled in just then to cover the sun. I came in with my mutilated lunchbox and concealed it in a way that would appear I was only neatly putting it away, useless now and lighter by the weight of its missing inner chamber, and yet as heavy and joyless as the sky and my sinking stomach.
Even had I dared to share this crime with an adult, I could not have articulated my emotions, and I'm not sure I can now, but what so upset me was not just the thermos itself, but the news, which was still news to my five year-old heart, is that I lived in a world in which things got broken, and when they did, often as not, the guilt for breaking them would fall on me. The adult world, I foresaw, was more than a mildly comical rush to important destinations: it was a world in which loss and shame were integral and increasingly frequent themes.
I think that's why I moped about my ACL (See, I told you we'd end up back here.) Just the same news, still capable of disheartening me now that I'm older by a factor of ten. Things break and tear. Nothing lasts forever.
I'm heading to the Y today to do some weights. I'll swim and ride my bike, and next year, by golly, I'll do my triathalon. I'm fifty-three and a torn ACL can't keep me down long. You get over an ACL.
It's that first broken lunchbox you never get over.