From online Merriam Webster: Definition of atrophy
1: decrease in size or wasting away of a body part or tissue atrophy of muscles. 
2: a wasting away or progressive decline

After Lucy’s first three weeks of rehab we sent a video to her surgeon for evaluation. His analysis was that the atrophy in her left leg was normal for this stage of recovery.

Atrophy? I hadn’t even thought about atrophy. I had been so intent in watching her walk, in order to slow her down, to prevent skipping, that I never actually looked at her leg. Atrophy. It is noticeable. It is the result of the surgery and the recovery time that forced her into inactivity.

Most of us are aware of the concept. We know that old saying Use it or Lose it. Some of us have even experienced atrophy as we’ve recovered from injury or illness and noticed a definite decrease in strength. I certainly have. But until I noticed Lucy’s legs. How one is nice and muscular and the other is looking a bit wimpy, I don’t think I’d ever seen such stark evidence of it. As long as we keep doing the rehab Lucy will recover her strength in that leg. It will take dedication and consistency on our part. Her strength/rehab is the same as for us…

Squat. Which means lots of sits. Did you know that you are squatting when you sit in a chair? Do you sometimes need to brace yourself to get down or back up? Squats are needed for daily living.

Walk. Especially on hills. For Lucy this means walking slow enough that she actually uses her leg. For all of us, consistency in moving especially up and (then) down hills helps to build those muscles that are weak from lack of use. Of course there is more that we humans can do. If you need a plan let me know!

I also can’t help thinking about another definition of atrophy, “progressive decline.” Is this what is happening in our nation? I remember a few years ago lamenting that we seem to have lost the ability for critical thinking. Think of this ability as a muscle that hasn’t been used as people retreat into whatever group seems safe to them and then refuses to engage in dialogue about issues. Important issues.

I remember having a long dialogue with someone. This meandered from issue to issue and when it was over I concluded that it wasn’t really a dialogue. He just wanted to know what I thought as his way to judge my – to him – heretical Christian beliefs. I remember as part of the dialogue encouraging him to meet people involved in Black Lives Matter so that he could expand his knowledge and love his neighbors as my version of Christianity calls us to do. Sadly, he was not interested, being happier to call the movement terrorist. That was four years ago.

Now we’ve declined so much that the news of the day, which most days is horrific, causes a shrug of the shoulders. Maybe we are overwhelmed? Probably. Add to this crackpot conspiracies that have gone mainstream and it’s way worse than losing critical thinking muscle. Now much of our country doesn’t want to think at all.

This could be truly depressing. Some days it is disheartening. Have we declined to the point of no return?

No. We have not. I have hope. I know that is is my job to have hope and to encourage others to have hope. But I really do have hope. Despite what is so prevalent, there is still much to see that is hopeful.

What can we do for this?

Try to do less of the mindless things we do. For me this is to make a conscious to not look at my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I recognize that I can get stuck in a horrified scrolling over all the bad news and crazy stuff that is there. I have to remind myself that I cannot make a difference  by reading this stuff. So…I have to limit myself.

A better thing to do is to expose our brains to different thoughts. I don’t mean to go and learn why a racist is a racist. That’s not helpful. What I mean is to learn new things, such as:

  • This year I started learning to draw. That exercises a different part of my brain.
  • Read. Read about things you are interested in. Read about subjects you’ve never explored.
  • Join discussion groups. It’s sometimes (oftentimes?) helpful to be able to share our stories, our joys, our frustrations, and our desires to grow in the context of a safe space with safe people.
  • Exercise. Yes! Exercise helps our brains. And if you choose to hit the trails, the concentration needed not to trip helps you to take your focus off of other issues.
  • This is not an exhaustive list! What are you doing to exercise both your body and your brain?