There’s a trick with knife I’m learning to do*

Last week I discovered that I have been holding knives wrong my entire life. Okay, fine, maybe not my entire life. Still we’re talking a solid twenty years and countless meals.

In retrospect, I suppose it would have been disappointing to take a knife skills class only to realize I had nothing left to learn. The class began with a simple enough instruction. Show me how you hold a knife. All of us smug; how could we get such a basic skill wrong?

Our instructor made her way around the table.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Her voice taking on a melodic quality, as if she was singing the chorus to a once popular, now long forgotten song.

Then, the demonstration. Thumb and forefinger pressing against the blade, hand barely grasping the handle. The idea, we were told, was to limit the strain on our bodies. To let the curve of the blade and the momentum created do the work for us. And, in theory, all of it seems easy enough. But there’s the matter of muscle memory. Old habits and all that.

I’m sorry to admit this isn’t the first time I’ve had to relearn a basic skill. There was my spate of seemingly athletic injuries a few years ago—A torn meniscus. Then another in my other knee and a stress fracture. It was so perplexing to one of my doctors that I had to go through test after test. The explanation turned out to be a simple one. Owing to a childhood injury, the line of my body was off, causing undue strain. This combined with an inability to do anything in moderation meant months of physical therapy to learn how to walk properly.

Maybe I’m destined to always be relearning things I thought I knew (now there’s a sentence). It seems that way given the last few weeks, confusion filled as they’ve been. Each time I get a handle on something, I discover that I’ve gotten it wrong; that my judgement isn’t as infallible as I’d like to believe.

Following the knife skills class, I was talking this over with close friend. He was quiet. Then, gently, Don’t take this the wrong way, but maybe you’re tying to make too many changes. I reacted pretty vehemently. I’m wont to do that when someone says something to hits a nerve. Then, I started giving it some thought.

About a year ago, on one of the first days of a two week stint in London, I did some serious damage to my leg. I was almost on the ground, and then I wasn’t. All well and good except that, in catching myself I may have done more harm. The next day, I couldn’t bend my knee. Or walk for that matter. I didn’t realize quite how deep into the ground London’s Tube Stations were until I was forced to stand, waiting for the escalators to take me all the way to the bottom.

By the time I got home and saw a doctor, I had managed to convince myself that I was on the mend—or, at least that I would be with the help of some heavy painkillers. I simply couldn’t face another round of P/T. And, so, I didn’t.

If you watch closely when I walk, you may notice that my right foot extends out ever so slightly. Among other things, I’m learning now that sometimes the wiser course of action may be to let myself tumble towards the ground at full speed, landing hard and then moving on.


*with apologies to Michael Ondaatje


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