Breaking my toe has changed my life. And, yes, I am aware of how melodramatic that sounds.
A couple of weeks ago I dropped a window pane on my right foot, breaking my big toe. It was my first proper injury, having somehow made it to the grand age of 26 without ever experiencing proper physical pain. And in the days that have followed, while I’ve limped and winced my way around London wearing an oversized pair of walking boots, I’ve learned a few lessons about myself and the city I live in. (As well as alternative uses for plastic bags. FYI, M&S food hall carriers are the only ones that’ll keep your foot dry in the shower.)
You see, I can’t actually remember how I dropped a window on my foot in the first place. One minute I was holding it and next minute… I just wasn’t. I’ve always had an active imagination – I spent most of my childhood issuing hand-drawn passports to my stuffed toys – and my mind likes to wander. I often find myself 10 minutes away from my house unable to recall putting on my shoes or locking the front door. Usually running on autopilot has its uses – who wants to be acutely tuned into monotonous morning tasks like pulling hair from the plughole? – but when it means you’re absentmindedly letting go of windows while barefooted, it’s no longer an advantage.
Nowadays everyone talks about mindfulness and ‘living in the now.’ It’s in the media, on telly and the subject of countless ‘inspirational’ Instagram posts. I’ve read books on the subject and understood the sentiment but it’s taken a broken bone for me to recognize how it actually applies to me. I’m rarely 100% engaged in my current task. If I’m missing falling windows, I must be missing all sorts of good stuff too.
Breaking a toe also literally puts the brakes on. Usually I’m an incredibly fast walker. I see a Google maps estimate as a challenge and I’ll admit to intolerantly tutting on the tube when stuck behind a meandering tourist. Successful people equal speedy people – and we’ve somehow associated the word slow with stupidity and laziness. Discovering that walking to the shop was going to take me 30 minutes, when it should take 10, was infuriating. I huffed, puffed and frowned. But nothing bad happened to me on account of slowing down. In fact, I noticed how pretty the houses on my street are and heard a bird singing in a tree. I was being more careful, more thoughtful, more present.
Yet, I can’t deny that London is poorly designed for slow walkers: pedestrian crossings don’t give you long enough to cross the street; bus drivers pull away before you’ve had a chance to sit down; people push and rush. My broken toe will be back to normal in a few weeks time, but there are plenty of Londoners for whom this pace is the norm. The ‘elderly, disabled and less able to stand’ really do need those priority seats. And I won’t ever impatiently march past or pretend I don’t see someone struggling again.
Having a bruised and bloody digit has quite literally changed my perspective. It’s time for me to slow down, to think, to care more about my fellow Londoners. And I got all that from one broken toe. Maybe we should all learn to limp a little.