James Taylor and a Surprisingly Existential Moment During My Physical Therapy Session

Let me start this story with an embarrassing fact: a few weeks ago, when I was working on the house, I lost my balance and fell off the top of a ladder.

I didn’t break anything, thankfully. But I landed on my left shoulder and it hasn’t been right since. I’m sure a younger version of me would have walked away from that accident with less injury, but I’m 45 now. And my body is seemingly more prone to injury than it used to be.

I let it alone for two weeks and then decided to start regular physical therapy sessions to get my mobility back.

I’ve been going to PT about twice a week, for over a month now.

For the most part, I’m doing a variety of stretches and exercises. I’ve started a newer one in the last week or so, involving taking a ball and tapping it against the wall in a circular motion.

Looking online, I found out the more technical term for it is: Wall Perturbations, a type of shoulder strengthening exercise.

This exercise goes really slowly for me, and I generally do 3 sets of ten, per arm. And the way I was instructed to do these exercises is to pretend I’m a clock, and start with my arm at the bottom (6:00 position) and go all the way up (12:00 position).

Today, as I was standing and tapping along the wall, I heard a version of James Taylor’s Carolina on my Mind.

The weird thing though – it was this jazzier, sped-up version. Which didn’t sound right at all as that song has always had a somber, reflective feel to me.

Listening to Taylor’s voice, I remembered my friend Nick Schroeder – who loved this song. And in particular loved this section:

There ain’t no doubt in no one’s mind that love’s the finest thing around…

Nick took his own life in 2010. And now, nearly a decade later, I found myself thinking of him, of the space between the end of his life and my life as it is now. I found myself thinking about time.

What has my life been like, since 2010? What have I seen and experienced that Nick never got a chance to see and experience? What have I done with my life, in that space between our lives – the end of his and the continuation of mine?

As James Taylor was singing, for those few minutes my whole body was part of one giant, imaginary clock. My arms moved to mark the passage of time, tapping a ball and shifting from 12:00 to 6:00, and then back to 12:00 again.

Over and over. Slowly. Bit by bit.

There were other patients in the room, going through their stretches and exercises – each of us left briefly to ourselves, while the trainers moved on to the next damaged person.

I wonder what others think of, when they silently work through their sets. Do they replay the injury that brought them there? Do they imagine their future lives, after their mobility and strength have returned?

Or are there others like me, thinking more about the fragility of our bodies, about our inescapable mortality and the passage of time? Perhaps they too, on occasion and quite unexpectedly, think about old friends who are no longer with us.

Ain’t it just like a friend of mine
To hit me from behind?
Yes, I’m gone to Carolina in my mind

Remembering Nick Schroeder, 1973 – 2010
Disturbing Reminders of Mortality, On the Way to Work
A Cough, a Sneeze, and the Ignominy of Back Pain

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