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No. 20 - Bones
A Short Essay + A Little Announcement
Before we get to today’s essay, I have a little announcement to make.
Since the first issue of this newsletter came out last November, the response from you (you, loyal readers, and also you, new faces) has been overwhelming. With that in mind, I’ve thought of a way you can show your love more directly.
Don’t worry, I’m not talking about a paid subscription.
Enter ShareTheMeal. It’s is a website and app associated with the United Nations World Food Programme, through which anyone can help buy meals for hungry families around the world. The process is transparent, easy, and efficient. I’ve kept up with ShareTheMeal’s progress ever since I started donating two years ago, and they’re really making a difference. For more detailed information on where donations go, I encourage you to check out the programme’s website.
If you like my writing, consider feeding some hungry kids. That’s all I ask. I won’t know whether you donate or not, so I’ll just trust karma on this one.
You can make a one-time payment, or turn it into a monthly thing. And to give you an idea of the value of your contribution: just $5 (the standard price for a monthly subscription on Substack) is enough to buy 7 meals.
Starting today, you’ll be seeing this prompt on all my posts:
Now, on with today’s show.
Last year at work, several people injured their knees. The first time it happened we were petrified, but by the third it had become a running joke. Our office became the place where knees go to die. Everyone else laughed, while I cringed, caressing my own weak knees. I was afraid of this new kind of plague. But that’s not all.
Secretly, I longed to be its next victim.
You see, I’ve never broken a bone. This little fact has been a source of much anxiety for me. In childhood, my father would regale me with yarns of his adventures as a boy my age, many of which he’d been rewarded for in fractures. Breaking a bone felt like the ultimate scouts’ badge. I hated my healthy body for depriving me of it. Something, I thought, was definitely wrong with me. Instead of hating just my body, I soon graduated to hating myself.
Later, broken bones became a sign of prowess. Eighth grade, a kid walked in with a cast around his arm, proud and expectant. Prompted at last by me, he explained he’d “punched the ground with so much power his own body couldn’t take it.”
I never thought you had to go out of your way to break your bones. It seemed a natural sort of bodily event, like the appearance of your first pimple. So why was I being sidestepped? Who had deemed me unworthy of a bone-shattering injury? Yes, I was a quiet, bookish kid, and I never learned to ride a bike. Still, I got into some fights, twice even spraining my right wrist. But the chicken bones in my forearm and hand remained frustratingly intact. With every passing year, like a stubborn nightmare, breaking a bone took up more and more space inside my head.
According to my therapist, I tend to compare myself to others in unhealthy ways. In college, pitting the scarred and broken bodies of others against my shamefully pristine form, I thought I’d discovered the source of their confidence, and by extension, my anxiety. They’d broken their bones and I had not. They had lived full lives, while I had not.
So when my co-workers went away, having been blessed with this thing I’d so desired, I expected, no, knew, they’d come back different. Bolder, straighter-backed, less perturbed by life’s vagaries.
One by one, they returned, much sooner than I had expected. But the inevitable changes failed to manifest. They were the people they’d been, now returned to their lives as they’d left them. No mention of their injuries was ever made again. It was almost magical, the way everything faded from our collective memory. Blown away like feathers in the wind.
The count stopped at three. The knee plague never reached me. But among all, I was the one it had changed.
I saw it now.
I had not missed a thing.
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