The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone; the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone; the thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone…
My new doctor sang out merrily as I stared back at him, an unfamiliar loss for words my immediate reaction. This is what one could expect from an innovative branch of medicine? The cover of the Magazine Section of the New York Times had assured me the new division of orthopedics was my birthright—that I owed it to myself, if I’d been in chronic pain for months, visited all the standard physicians and followed advised protocols but was still in pain, to see a Sports Medicine Doctor. YES! Rang out in my head, as I checked each disorder affirmatively. And there was no doubt the pain at the bottom of my foot was still there, making it almost impossible to walk now and affecting my psyche as well as my health. I owe it to myself! How wonderfully proactive my decision made me feel, but the handsome young doctor’s diagnosis didn’t. He must have noted the depth of despair I’d sunk to by the murky film across my eyes.
“I don’t follow you,” I said, dully. “What’s the connection?”
“Just that!” he answered with a gleeful chuckle. “The connections are everything, and your foot trouble comes from tight back muscles.”
“I don’t follow,” I whispered, aware of the awkward echo . He seemed delighted with the progress our communication was making, while I was wondering how to escape the impasse.
“You know that old song, don’t you? Knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone…”
“Sure…some of it anyway…I think…” I was pretty sure this wasn’t going anywhere I wanted to, and started to slip off the examining table and reach for my sneakers.
“Okay, so the point is everything’s connected to something else in the body, and your tight back muscles caused a chain-reaction to pull on your Achilles tendon which pulls on your Plantar tendon under your arch. Both of them yanking at the same time make that place in your heel so inflamed you can’t walk on it.” Instantly I accepted the reality of his diagnosis. Even though I’d been a dancer for years, I’d ignored the connections and stopped working on keeping them all stretched to relieve tension on each other. Another case of the shoemaker’s children going barefoot. The foolishness of it made me blush. Of all people…I should have known.
Since that day over 30 years ago, I’ve often referred back to the well-known spiritual, Dem Bones. The melody by African-American author and songwriter James Weldon Johnson in 1871 reminds me of the steep price one pays for forgetting that everything is connected, not only in the body, but in life. If there’s a result I don’t understand, I move back along the line of structural tension to see where it originated. Likewise if there’s an action I want to take, I try to follow the pull in my plan to the ultimate conclusion, mindful of the myriad connections along the way and how they’ll be affected. Doesn’t that add a lot of work to the effort? You bet. But it also helps assure me I won’t be inviting unexpected consequences from ignoring the connections; consequences that could easily end up affecting my Achilles tendon in the future, both figuratively and literally.
Watching a young violinist friend play a solo recital on stage recently, I marveled at the size of the muscle along the side of his left hand, as I often have before. He has what we Americans would consider to be a small frame, and that outsized little muscle reminds me of left-handed Australian tennis player Rod Laver’s left forearm. A star of the ‘60s and ‘70s, he has a massive tree-trunk left forearm compared to his normally human-sized right one. When I watched Laver compete and noticed that arm, I often wondered if the dichotomy in his limbs caused something else in his body to go awry. I looked back up at my violinist and noticed that the outside of his wrist also had an amazing muscle flexing in the overhead stage lights. It made me grateful for connections, realizing instantly that the seemingly delicate left hand was supported by this unexpectedly powerful wrist. The connections were inescapable, and as I know he plays a grueling schedule and teaches at the same time, I knew all the other connections must be healthy and supportive, or the whole body would never work as it does.
Letting the beauty of the music wash over me, I realized the depth of its interpretation was also possible only because my friend has kept all those connections in his life healthy; fasciae binding him together, while allowing his passion for his art to slide smoothly from him to his audiences. The only time fasciae can’t resist unidirectional force is when they’ve been pulled too far so they don’t have any give left. Staying mindful of the importance of the connections, and doing the constant work to keep them supple while making new ones at the same time, seems the key to an artist’s longevity.
Craft without art isn’t worthy, and art without passion isn’t art at all. Paying homage to all the nuances and connections of a life would seem to me the only way to stay vibrant. No matter what we want to do, play music or sports, work, paint or write…staying limber with new challenges and change is as important to the soul as stretching is to the muscles of the lower back. Connections may not be visible at all times, but they’re there. So it’s imperative that we all make new ones and keep them supple if we want to stay alive. The thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone…and we writers need to be elastic if we want to stay in touch with who we are.