this (sticky) life
WHEN I picked up the walking stick from the middle of the road and found no related body parts in sight, I asked a nearby shopkeeper to hold the errant stick until the rightful owner could claim it.
The good thing was, it had a name tag and number, the kind they put on your belongings for hospitalisation so there is a reference point for disposal if you never check out.
Well, there was no blood on the road, no mangled traffic lights, nor evidence of personal trauma.
Picking it up seemed like a good idea at the time, as it shouldn’t have been there and I nearly ran it over. It was like a stray puppy — I picked it up and then wished I hadn’t, but by then I was stuck with dealing with the stick.
‘‘So why’d you pick it up in the first place?’’ my unhelpful teenager asked. It was obvious: the stick or the owner, or both, were lost and I had a helping imperative. I left a message for ‘‘Shirley’’ telling her where I had deposited her stray stick, and was surprised to see next day that I had missed five phone calls from her. Perhaps she needed this stick urgently. Finally, Shirley and I spoke, and I learned the value of the walking stick. This was not a mere stick but a carefully crafted ambulatory aid specially made, with a venerable history of comfort and servitude.
‘‘Stick’’ was a family heirloom, a relic bequeathed to Shirley’s family by her even older and much loved aunt, who had passed away the year before.
Shirley’s sister had attached the name tag to ensure its safekeeping while in Shirley’s care. It hadn’t worked, obviously, but anyway, the lost stick now had become the lucky stick found. And the owner just couldn’t thank me enough, and told me its story.
Shirley loved the stick. It seemed tailored to her height and the handle was worn into a shape of comfort, set at an angle to counter her lack of stability, and, she told me, it was the perfect weight for a walking stick. No carved bone handle or elephant tusk decoration here.
Silly me. I thought a stick was a stick was a stick, much like a snake stick any Aussie dad might have picked up years ago on a walk, to whack to death any snake he came across — any shape or type of stick would do, with the right attitude and purpose. But I was wrong.
And, just as these days we have a different attitude to snakes and their rightful place in our landscape, from now on I’ll also have a different respect for a walking stick.
And though it may it be many years until I need one (I pray to God, Shaman, Universal Mother, preacher teacher and spirits, please give me 40 years at least without one), I’ll know that when the time comes, a stick can become like an old friend, always there for you, seemingly pretty ordinary but in fact immensely loved and hard to replace. Equivalent to an aged cat or dog or friend, perhaps.
Long live the hip replacement and Nordic walking technique, which can prolong your agility and your ability to walk sans stick.
But when my time comes, let me have a valued stick with a personal history, one that a stranger would rescue from a possible hit-and-run accident without a second thought, and let us stick together in our respect for this simple but essential ancient invention.