Mar 242012

16 May, 2011


Half-pace at the Epicentre

Downtown Mullumbimby is not New York.

Mullumbimby is my town. Well, it’s my current town, a bustling little hive of activity in its own country-slow way. The bustling bit means that these days it’s near impossible to get a carpark. Once you’re on the footpath however – the budding New Yorker in me says ‘sidewalk’ – once you’re on the footpath it’s pretty cruisy.

People circle on the footpath in social clusters to say g’day to friends, they sit on benches beneath waving palm trees near the pedestrian crossings, they J walk nowhere near the crossings and think nothing of holding up the traffic.

In short, we wander. Very few of us hurry.

Ahhh, New York.

The NYC of my mind has footpaths – er, sidewalks – teeming with busy people all going one way (usually to the top).  New Yorkers rush. They are focused. Not on the sidewalk. Or even the people on the sidewalk. But on ‘the top’ that beams from the third eye in their minds. And if two of these dashing New Yorkers happen to stop to say g’day, they cause a human traffic pile-up and people drop their briefcases and spill important papers all over the sidewalk.

True story, it happens all the time in the movies.

So there I was last week in Mullumbimby, standing on the Santos steps (Santos is our health food shop, ironic name hey). So there I was standing on the wide red concrete steps of Santos, about to walk down, when a woman singlemindedly marched out of the store (she was probably a visiting New Yorker) and stopped short right beside me, impatient and puzzled why I didn’t get out of her way.

I stared at her, not sure whether to explain or apologise. In the end I did nothing, but attempt to lift one foot and make my way awkwardly down the steps.

Have I mentioned I broke my foot? In January. January 21st to be exact. Five bones! Metatarsils 1-4 and the cuboid. What was I doing? (I know you’re thinking that because everyone wants to know.) I was riding a scooter, merrily sweeping along the footpath on my small silver chariot, when I hit some slime and whack! My foot smashed hard and fast into the cement. So as I said, five bones. Last week, four months later, I was only just mobile without my crutches.

And here’s the thing about crutches – you are visibly dis-abled. Here’s the thing without them – the disability is not visible and you the disabled are at the mercy of the assumptions of passing strangers. So there I was about to walk down the steps and this woman barges out of the shop and presumes I will leap out of her way and I can’t. It’s that simple. I cannot move quickly. I limp heavily. And yesterday was the first day in four months that I felt a little spring in the step of my left foot. It’s healing. I’m getting better. And I am slow.

So as I stood facing the woman who barged out of the shop, wondering whether to explain or apologise, in the end I did neither because my thoughts ballooned into this thought:

If I can’t manage half pace Mullumbimby how on Earth am I going to navigate the streets of New York?

I smiled. I remembered the moment I booked my ticket three weeks ago at Qantas online. I remembered clicking ‘pay now’ and thinking ‘Steph, you have a broken foot. You’re going to New York City?’

Yes. Ha haha. I’m going to New York City, lifelong beacon of hope in my heart, the one place on Earth that moves at my natural pace – and I have a (rapidly healing) broken foot. What a hoot.

I mentioned this to my friend Jennie Dell the other day who is VERY EXCITED that I am going to New York.

I said: ‘I’m moving at half pace Mullumbimby – imagine, I’m going to New York!’

And she, who has been there, a great lover of the great city, said this:

‘I was in New York a few years ago and I made a point of walking slowly. It was wonderful, because by walking slowly you will meet the eyes of the natives.’

And there I have it. Permission to walk slowly in New York.

Because when we walk slowly we have beautiful encounters with the spirits of the people of a place. I know this from experience the past four months. Because the only people going at my pace, and they are not necessarily walking, are the disabled. People I have been in too much of a hurry to ‘meet’ before. And here we are, left behind by the great sweep of the able bodied, left behind to smile and sometimes chat as we lean on our crutches in the street.

Encounters. Sometimes it’s just a big smile in the eye contact.

This is the gift of my broken foot.

New York is a gift from my heart.


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