Malicious tree stump teaches [painful] lesson on suffering

Have you ever looked at a tree stump? They're nondescript, and the large ones are remnants of once-great pillars of stability and certainty. If we can't depend on trees to grow and bloom, on what can we count? The stump of a tree, more than most other things, symbolizes the death of expectations. Perhaps we should pay more attention to tree stumps; this winter break I didn't and paid the price.

In all honesty, it wasn't my fault; the day was beautiful--no clouds, crisp air, few other skiers on the run. Six inches of snow had fallen the previous night; we started early enough so that much of the powder still remained. The good bumps lay next to the woods, so I stayed close to the trees trying to follow the path taken by a friend (a much better skier) who went ahead of me.

I remember the moment clearly. I edged to the left, slightly out of the line traced by my friend, and suddenly felt a jarring impact, a pop in my left knee, and found myself flung forward. My pride wounded by falling underneath the chair lift, I struggled to my feet, determined to ignore the throbbing in my knee and continue down the mountain. I clicked my foot back into the binding, placed weight on my left ski and immediately pitched forward.

The ski patrol came and took me to a clinic, where the doctor determined that I had ruptured my ACL, a ligament in the knee. As I later learned, I had skied into a tree stump concealed by the fresh snow. In a way, the situation was comical. I have a hard time thinking of anything less threatening than a tree stump or anything more inane than saying, "Ah, yes, well, I, uh, hurt myself on a tree stump."

In the back of my mind, I knew I could hurt myself skiing. I always figured, though, the injury would come trying to bomb a run or going too fast through a tree trail--in short, through an act of my own stupidity. For some foolish reason, injury acquired through an act of derring-do seems somehow more noble than injury by getting tree stumped. Moreover, it seems trivial to find some great personal meaning in a ski injury.

I know that with all the problems in the world and in the country, having my knee rebuilt really doesn't matter when compared with what I could be going through but for a twist of fate; yet at the time, the injury was the center of my universe. I thought not of what could be but what would be: no basketball, no tennis, no racquetball for the whole semester. Instead I would have surgery, physical therapy and discomfort.

Even having resigned myself to the surgery, even knowing absolutely that in the grand scheme, I've gotten more breaks than roadblocks, it's still difficult not to be self-pitying. After all, the injury was not my fault; no precaution other than the random luck of taking a different route would have changed the situation; nonetheless, I spent New Year's Eve on crutches, in a splint and in pain.

Sometimes it's difficult to appreciate what we have when compared against the backdrop of our own lives. That is, we all see suffering on television and sympathize without realizing what that pain entails. Now, being able to compare my expectations for this spring semester before and after the accident, I understand better the difference between true suffering and my minor setback.

In truth, I philosophically disagree with the idea of comparative suffering. Suffering is suffering regardless of degree; to expect people to minimize their own troubles in light of others' problems is both unfair and unreasonable. This winter, however, experiential evidence proved stronger than abstract theory. Sitting at home, watching the evening news, and seeing the hell Chechnya had become, my first thought was not of "comparative suffering" but of how fortunate I was to be in a heated home with sufficient food; I never once thought of my knee.

Sometimes, experiential evidence outweighs whatever philosophical leanings we might have. The idea of surgery does not excite me, but, all things considered, I'm not going to complain.

Alex Rogers is a Trinity junior.


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