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Poem: "A Certain Form of Humility" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "A Certain Form of Humility"
This poem came out of the July 3, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was commissioned by DW user Satsuma. It also fills the "asking for help" square in my 6-23-18 card for the Hurt/Comfort Bingo fest. This poem belongs to the series Path of the Paladins.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them.  The rate is $.50/line, so $5 will reveal 10 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses.
So far sponsors include: DW user Satsuma, general fund, kestrels_nest

FULLY FUNDED
155 lines, Buy It Now = $76
Amount donated = $58
Verses posted = 40 of 55

Amount remaining to fund fully = $18
Amount needed to fund next verse = $1
Amount needed to fund the verse after that = $1



A Certain Form of Humility


They were walking through the forest
when the ground abruptly gave way to gully,
sending Johan and Althey tumbling into a creek.

"Are you all right?" Johan asked as he
helped his novice get back on his feet.

"Yes," Althey said. "What about you?"

"I'm fine," Johan said, picking up
the backpack that he had dropped.

Wet and muddy, the two paladins
climbed out of the narrow gully.

The trail on this side of the gap
was a little wider, probably from
people trampling around in attempt
to resituate themselves after a fall.

It was several minutes before
Althey said, "You're limping."

Johan looked down. "So I am."

Althey gave an exasperated snort.
"I'm a healer, Johan. Were
you planning to ask for
my help any time soon?"

Well, no, he wasn't.

Johan had spent so much time
in various amounts of pain or
discomfort that he had just
quit paying attention to it.

Also, asking for help required
a certain form of humility that
he had never been very good at.

"It's not serious," Johan said,
tuning out the ache in his ankle.

Althey put a gentle hand on
his shoulder. "You've been here
for me. Let me be here for you,"
he said. "Whenever you're ready."

Then he shrugged his backpack
a little higher and walked on.

That was ... interesting.

Usually people either
pestered Johan to do
what they wanted, or
ignored him altogether.

By the time the sun
reached its high point
in the sky to signal lunch,
the dull ache had become
a sharp, stabbing pain.

With a groan of relief,
Johan let his backpack
slide off his shoulders
onto the ground beside
a seat made of fallen logs.

He sat down and closed his eyes,
grateful for the chance to rest.

The little clearing around them
was right by a small, clear stream
that beckoned weary travelers
to stop and refresh themselves.

Johan could hear his novice
puttering around in the water,
but Althey didn't pester him.

A few minutes later, the smell
of cooking food floated by.

Johan realized that he should
get up and do his share of the work.

When he tried to stand, though,
his ankle hurt so much that he
yelped, and his leg threatened
to buckle underneath him.

Althey looked up at him.

All of a sudden, Johan
didn't see any point in
keeping the pain when he
had a perfectly good healer
standing right in front of him.

Asking for help still felt like
a foreign language to him,
but maybe he could learn it.

"Help," Johan whispered.

"Of course," Althey said.
He brought over a pot of
clean water from the stream
and a stack of clean cloths.
"Lean back against the tree."

Johan braced himself
against the broad trunk
and gritted his teeth as
Althey pried his boot off.

The ankle had swollen
more than he had realized.

When Althey peeled off
the sock, Johan could see
a smudge of dried blood on
his ankle where something
had scraped against him.

The water felt cool and soothing
against Johan's heated skin.

Then Althey laid his hands
on the injured ankle, murmuring
a prayer, and the pain melted away.

Johan sighed and slumped
against the tree trunk.

There was something
about healing magic
that made it feel like
everything in the world
would be all right.

After a few minutes,
Althey patted his knee
and said, "All done. You
sit here and rest while I
take care of the camp."

"All right," Johan agreed.

And then something
spilled over him with
a wash of heat and light.

"What was that?" Althey said.

"You felt it too?" Johan said.

"Like someone just poured
warm water over me," Althey said.
"Yes, I felt it too, whatever it was."

Johan racked his memory
in search of anything similar.

The only thing he could think of
was that first flush of power
back when he became a novice.

It had faded so much over the years
that he had almost forgotten about it.

Now Johan hummed a snatch of prayer
and was startled to feel a flare of energy,
followed by Gailah's amused approval.

"Try a prayer," he told Althey.
"Pick something short, and
see if you feel a difference."

Althey's startled squawk
told him all he needed to know.

"We leveled up," Johan said,
his voice soft with amazement.
"I didn't know that this could
even happen anymore."

"The world is changing,"
Althey said, "and so are we."

"So we are," Johan said,
and leaned against the tree
while he watched his novice
attend to their campfire.

Johan curled his fingers
and watched golden light
pool in his palm, as if he
had captured a sunbeam.

The sight of it filled him
with a soft, yielding awe.

Perhaps, like asking for help,
the pearl of a paladin's power
lay in a certain form of humility.

* * *

Notes:

"I've never been good with asking for help; it seems risky, but at some point when things are really dicey, your stubbornness gives way to a certain form of humility that, after you get over yourself, feels liberating. I started to believe that the universe was conspiring to help me finish my house, sending people along at the right moment."
Dee Williams

Foot anatomy is complex. About a quarter of the bones in the whole body are in the feet, which are well supplied with blood and nerves, so there are a lot of opportunities for something to go wrong there. Ankle injuries often occur while hiking. First aid for most ankle injuries is the same and most can be done in the wilderness. "Ignore it and just keep walking" is not a recommended form of first aid. Notice that Johan started out with a moderate injury and made it worse by not stopping to treat it immediately. There's a rather serious error on that topic in this reference: "If their range of motion is intact and they are able to bear weight, the injury is stable; if not, the injury is unstable." A more accurate statement is that you can definitely identify an unstable injury by its characteristic malfunctions, but an injury can seem stable if the victim's pain tolerance eclipses a soft limit on functionality. It is most prone to happen in this exact situation: a tough guy walks on an injured ankle and makes it worse.  (A similar issue occurs in people with chronic pain; they may get so used to ignoring meaningless pain that they overlook meaningful pain unless they look very closely.)  That's because they can walk on a level of pain intended to prevent walking, which works in most people, but not on everyone.  Ask about the victim's background!  Among the most common types of pseudo-stable injuries are partial tears and greenstick fractures. Rest it and it'll heal; walk on it, and it'll rip all the way through. TL;DR don't walk on an injured ankle, unless your life depends on doing so.

Asking for help is an essential life skill.  People may find it difficult for various reasons.  In Johan's case, he had little trouble until his religion collapsed around him, and after that, a lot of miserable life experiences created a lot of bad habits that he is now having trouble discarding.  Know how to ask for help or teach someone else to do it.

Laying on of hands is a method of healing which appears in various religions and as an entertainment trope.  It is characteristic paladins in many cases.


[To be continued ...]

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8 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 5th, 2018 03:39 am (UTC) (Link)
>It is most prone to happen in this exact situation: a tough guy walks on an injured ankle and makes it worse. That's because they can walk on a level of pain intended to prevent walking, which works in most people, but not on everyone.

This also happens with people with some kinds of chronic pain - if you're used to some kind of "meaningless" pain you might unintentionally ignore meaningful pain unless you think to stop and look for it
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 5th, 2018 03:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Aaand I forgot I was on livejournal so didn't sign that, whoops - this is Satsuma :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 5th, 2018 03:45 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

D'oh! I should have thought of that. I have added a note to this effect.
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 13th, 2018 06:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Every time I have physical therapy, the first thing I tell my therapist is that I habitually block pain, and that they need to pay attention to other cues to make sure I don't do too much, too fast and further damage whatever joint is being worked on this time. Every time they tell me I shouldn't do that, and get the same explanation: that I was told at age 15 (when everyone is kind of stupid) that I wouldn't ever walk without a brace again. My response was quintessentially me: "Oh yeah? Watch me." No brace, a cane only rarely, and a limp only when I'm exhausted. But getting to that point required making pain-blocking so deeply ingrained it's reflex. I no longer have conscious control of it, so I tell the professionals that they have to watch, because I can't
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 13th, 2018 06:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
And my forgettery - Mama Kestrel here.
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: July 14th, 2018 05:04 am (UTC) (Link)
I love this, and it's very timely in several different ways. (It would have been even more useful a couple of years ago -- I still haven't fully recovered from that particular trainwreck.)

I'm still no good at asking for help.
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 15th, 2018 05:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
I haven't read anything else of the paladin series, I don't think, but this certainly got my attention, for several reasons. I'm glad Johan took the chance! -kellyc
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 15th, 2018 07:39 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yay!

You're in for a great ride. :D The poems are linked through the series page, and Johan first appears in "Stained."
8 comments or Leave a comment