Exercise #2: Describe the most disappointing gift you’ve ever received. What did the gift reveal about the giver?
This was in 2002, or maybe 2003, and I don’t recall if it was in celebration of my birthday or for Christmas when the gift was presented to me. I didn’t know what to say at the time it was revealed, instead choosing a smile and a simple, “Thank you” that I hoped sounded sincere and would be enough to mask how I really felt while gathering my thoughts. I knew immediately, though, that the gift would probably never be used.
Approximately 20 years ago, I sustained an injury to my lower back that was enough to cause my right leg to go almost entirely numb – and stay that way. With that numbness came various limitations that I have learned to live with ever since. A few of those limitations make certain tasks very difficult, and make others nearly impossible. So when I received a bicycle as a gift, in 2002 or 2003, I was at a loss.
My mind raced, though. How was I supposed to ride it? I’ve already mentioned the issue with my right leg. Let’s add to that the fact that my right foot is also numb and has little to no reflex ability at all. I’ll further illustrate what I mean. You know those crazy-cute, strapless sandals (mules, clogs, you know what I mean) that most other women get to shimmy about in during the summer? No, I can’t wear those. Something as “simple” as being able to flex the foot to keep a strapless shoe on is lost to someone with the type of nerve damage I have. The shoe ends up coming right off mid-step.
There are also issues that I have with balance. I’ve gotten good enough to be able to mask it when I walk sometimes: the limp, the bit of a drag on the right side, and it sometimes only becomes an issue when I’m exhausted and lack the energy to “put on a show” for whoever might be around.
So, yes…the bike. How would I work the pedals without being able to hold my right foot steady? Pedal straps? No, those are dangerous. If I needed to suddenly get off of the bike, how would I be able to pull my right foot free of the strap in time? I didn’t ride bikes as a kid. I was usually inside reading and, later on as a teenager, I walked almost everywhere. I was, therefore, unable to rely on the overall muscle memory I might have had otherwise had I been the bike-riding sort. And look, I commend those with challenges much greater than mine who are able to ride a bike. I’m not talking about anyone else’s ability here – or lack thereof – but my own.
What was even more disappointing about the bike, though, was figuring out the reasons it was given to me. My problem wasn’t that he thought I should be more active. The issue was in the way the decision to purchase the bike was made without so much as a consideration as to whether I might like or want one. I didn’t go around with a sigh and lament, “I wish I had a bike…” or anything even remotely similar. I cared not a whit that this was considered a “Top of the Line” blahwhocares model that cost a few hundred dollars. It could have been purchased fifth-hand from a yard sale and patched up – it was still a bike that I, sadly, couldn’t do much with aside from glance at it.
Though I didn’t really realize it then, that gift was the beginning of a disconnect. It was symbolic of two people being on completely different wavelengths. The giver was trying to mold me into a certain ideal, and this served as the attempt to initiate that process. If I’m going out to spend $300 on a gift for someone, I fully intend to first research that person’s need/desire for the gift – and not indulge any selfish plans of my own.
After all, that’s what a gift is supposed to be…isn’t it?
Incidentally, I did end up eventually sharing my concerns about the bike. They were not well-received. Perhaps less than a year or so later, as I took my leave, I ended up giving the bike to the pre-teen son of a friend so that someone could find joy in it.