“Ankles are nearly always neat and good-looking, but knees are nearly always not.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
I love my knees. That is to say I love what they can do and how long they have lasted without much ado. I am not a fan of how they look so much. Knees in general are not often the objects of ardor. They’re like ears, functional and little odd looking and we’re all super glad we have them but don’t often flaunt them.
As a child I could not be tethered to the indoors. Once called in from playing outside for dinner I would sit with one foot pointing toward the door, half off the chair, ready to bolt back to my game of tag or baseball or throwing locusts at each other. Dinner was for adults, I was in, I was out.
With tree climbing, roller skating down slides, hanging upside down on monkey bars and swings and riding my bike really, really fast, my knees didn’t stand a chance. There was always something healing, bandaged, covered in Bactine, bruised or freshly scraped. Often all of the above at once. My father was an artist and for my 8th birthday he made me a card – almost life sized. It was a caricature of me that he had strung a tiny diamond heart necklace on. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt – matching Danskin blue and white, if you must know – and on each elbow, knee and shin were band-aids. The gift came with the caveat, “Do not wear this outside.” Well then, where should I where it? Around the house in my finest pajamas? It lasted 2 weeks. Gone. He really should have known better.
At some point in my childhood I realized I walked a little pigeon-toed, my mother as well. My father, with his high ideas about beauty, probably mentioned some misgiving about our less than parallel feet. I took this as something that needed correction. I began to walk like a duck to overcorrect. It worked mostly and my feet are now both pointing in the same direction, but in the process I rearranged the cartilage in my knees producing a relief map of the Utah desert. Flat land punctuated by mesas and phallic rock formations. They look like they should hurt, but they don’t, they’re just interesting.
They have never given me issues, other than being skinless for my first 20 years or so, until this past February. I asked too much of them. I put them on a nine hour flight to London, then walked them for 48 hours straight so that I could see absolutely every last crevice, crack and castle before heading off to India for 2 weeks. Mr. Right Knee was very argumentative that first day, he warned me. He said, take the tube, or a cab, or just sit a while. I didn’t listen, I rarely do, but I am learning. For two weeks in India I limped along, barely able to do yoga in the mornings – and it was a yoga trip – and wincing hiking up and down hills, but I soldiered on. Recovery would have to wait until I returned home.
He’s better now, Mr. Right Knee, but he’s a little disappointed in me. I know now that my body parts only have my best interests at heart. During the whirlwind in London I had a great time, but it’s the moments I was still that I remember feeling like I was THERE. I must have taken 45 pictures of Big Ben, almost all from the same angle, in an effort to absorb it, to ground myself to that time and place. That’s all Mr. Knee wanted. He wanted to rest and he wanted me to get it. I do.
The knee with its complicated system of ligaments and tendons, cartilage and plates and shifting this and floating that is both vulnerable to serious injury and incredibly strong. Its life can be altered or snatched away with a single wrong move, but it can also carry us forward, keep us upright, bend in proposal and fold under us in prayer. It is an appropriate and beautiful metaphor for life itself. And it deserves the same attention and care.
Life is messy. My knees are messy. And while I may not appreciate their aesthetics, I truly love their endurance and strength. I love my silly knees with their extra layer of protection on the inside and their craggy terrain on top. They’ve got a face only a mother could love and I’m that mom.
“I run like I have cirrus clouds for legs and rainbow knees. What is life, if not a marathon of love?” – Jarod Kintz