My dad’s nearly-ninety-year-old knee took him places. As a boy, he trudged two miles to school on a country road that wound through the hills of Western Maryland. On long summer evenings, he ran barefoot across the yard playing tag with his cousins. And hand to the plow, he plodded in furrows behind Bob and Fern, the draft horses, to ready the ground for winter wheat.
And it took him across the world: Israel, Turkey, Cyprus, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Liechtenstein, France, Italy, Luxemburg, Belgium, Great Britain, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Mexico, Peru, Columbia, Ecuador, and Canada.
In these last years, his knee has bent to help my mother when she fell, to wash her blood from the floor, and to spade her garden, because growing plants nourish her spirit.
But this last year, his knee has constrained him, keeping him in the house instead of on summer walks, on the couch while others rake his leaves and shovel his snow, and in a recliner at night, trying to find a position that will take away pain.
So to distract himself from the reality of a nearly-ninety-year- old body, my dad turned more fully to the life of the mind. When I dropped by to check on him, I’d find him at his computer, researching, for example, road conditions in the 1850s and how the indentured-servant system worked. Though his face was often fatigued with pain, his eyes would be alert and intrigued.
My dad’s knee did manage to take him one more place—to the hospital, where its worn-down parts were replaced with metal and plastic. And as we soldiered through the first post-op day, he seemed to manage his pain by turning to ideas. We talked about the difference between a meadow and a pasture, how President Buchannan might have staved off the Civil War, the function of applause at a sacred concert, and what it means to be one of eight billion people on the earth.
It’s been fascinating to watch my dad resolutely turn attention from his knee to ideas. But I’m looking forward to joining him for a long springtime walk with his new knee.