Today, a tired and ordinary Monday, someone saw me. Well, he saw my walk (technically, he heard it). As I was making my way (half awake) into my 8:30 a.m. course, a classmate came up behind me. Unlike most fellow hallway pedestrians, he didn’t pass me out of frustration for my pace. Instead he came up beside me and offered pleasantly: “it’s hard to walk on these floors without making any sounds.” Because of my CMT, I have difficultly walking silently. The dorsiflexion (ability to pull up your toes and top of your foot while your heel remains on the floor) that is required for silent steps has become a casualty of my condition. This results in steps that are marked by the eloquently named “foot slap.” My steps are never silent.
Anyway, this semi-random person decided to comment on it. He wore fancy looking, click-clacking men’s dress shoes. The loud-stepping kind.
As I continued down the hall, I wondered about the motives behind his comment. Perhaps it came from discomfort or curiosity at the sound of my typically non-loud sneaker. Perhaps it came from his desire to relieve any discomfort he thought I would have (FYI: I felt none) at the echoes of our four feet moving down the otherwise empty hall. Above all though, I think he wanted to connect. True: his loudness was by virtue of his shoe choice, mine by virtue of random genetic mutation. But there we were, sharing hallway sounds.
As I reflect on hallway guy’s comment, I wonder if I can extract some wisdom from his off-the-cuff statement. “It’s hard to walk on these floors without making any sounds.” Living with Charcot-Marie-Tooth is a very visible experience. Whether I like it or not, the abnormality of my gait is difficult to hide from passersby. CMT is loud.
But what sound am I making? Foot slap, yes. But perhaps there is more… In each step that I take, my body speaks of a different type of walk, a different type of embodiment. Most powerfully, my experience with visible physical “inadequacy” has forced me to witness to a bodily vulnerability that I did not choose. CMT has inscribed vulnerability on my body.
In my visible woundedness, I witness to what I believe is the single most dominant feature of the human condition: the inescapable vulnerability that characterizes all people, all bodies. When I ask friends to hold their arm for stability as we walk together, I witness to the fact that all of us – CMT or not – need one another for (literal or figurative) support. The scars on my body and the limp in my legs witness to the raw human reality of pain and suffering. But with each laborious step forward I choose to take, my body also represents the determined movement of hope. Each loud slap of my failing feet is the sound of determination to keep stepping. It is the sound of not giving up. It is the sound that connects my bodily vulnerability to the depths of yours. It is the sound that unites all of us. It is the sound by which, with every unashamed step, I declare: “This is my body.”