The timer on my phone hits zero, I hit “reset,” and off it goes again, counting down. Happily, as far as I can tell. It certainly shows no signs of boredom, fatigue, or discouragement in this task.


And again. Sigh. That’s me, not the timer. Sadly, I am susceptible to boredom, fatigue, and discouragement.

A few years ago, technology savant that I am, I started using my phone’s timer and stopwatch functions to time various elements of my workout, such as it is. Otherwise, as the exercises got harder-and-harder and I got TIREDER-AND-TIREDER, I found that my counting got faster-and-faster. Now that I’ve added even more seemingly endless stretches to my workout-such-as-it-is, the timer also eliminates the monotony of counting to 30 six times for each of several stretches.

The upper-body stretches aren’t too bad: They don’t hurt, I can often do both sides at the same time, and I can actually see some small improvement in flexibility over time. The lower-body stretches are a different matter: They often hurt (especially the right hip), they usually require an inherently inefficient and truly boring, repetitive sequence (left, right, left, right, left, right), and improvement is, if not entirely elusive, then slow enough to elude discernment.

A few months ago, as I executed one of two hip stretches under the physiotherapist’s watchful eye, I asked what seemed like a reasonable question.

How long before I should see improvement?

Buddy likes to answer a question with the physio equivalent of a Socratic question: Lead the patient to realize what they already know.

How long have you been having this trouble?

Thppt. How long? About as many years as the seconds I spend in each iteration of the stretch. All right then. How long before I should see improvement? Long.

Physically, acute injuries heal faster than chronic dysfunctions improve. A broken leg heals in six weeks or so; a decades-long stiff hip, not so much. Not even in six months, in my experience. In six years? We’ll see.

Emotionally, I can let go of some recent snit much easier than old familiar grudges and regrets. Embedded in the texture of my life, they dig-in against my efforts to dig them out.

Societally, we mobilize pretty well to handle emergencies but are slow to fix our big problems. Floods? Forest fires? Outbreaks of food contamination? We’re on it. Poverty? Addiction? Intolerance? Crime? Um, we’ll get back to you on that.

It doesn’t excuse us not trying — not continuing to push, even to stretch — but it might reset our expectations. How long before we should see improvement in how well we live together?

How long have we been having this trouble?

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4 Responses to Long

  1. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – many years ago I went for my Canadian Forces mandated over 40 medical. When it was over I said to the doctor like many others before me, “Well I guess it is all downhill from here.”

    He cheerfully replied. “Oh no. Your actual physical decline begins at age 35.”

    “Thank you ever so much”, was my reply as I went through the door.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John W – Funny guy. I’m never sure whether that’s a good thing in a medical professional.

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    I resonate with your comment about societal response.It’s again that distinction between “urgent” and”Important.” Emergencies like forest fires are urgent; poverty and addiction are important, but not urgent, so they get pushed aside. I wonder if we need a recognition of life experience. As individuals, we know that it takes longer to heal from a fall, or from surgery, when we’re older. Maybe the age of the society similarly affects its ability to heal. A local community can heal/change/respond to a local issue fairly quickly; a larger society (like a nation, or the whole of western civilization) will take longer because it is much older.

    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – Older? Yeah, maybe. Larger for sure, so there are more people to herd/corral. I seem to remember some organizational theory that argued that humans couldn’t manage any group larger than 50 people.

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