It’s a pleasant thing to be young, and have ten toes, quoth Robert Louis Stevenson.
Well, it’s good to have ten working toes at any age, I would say, as someone who is coming down the home stretch from foot surgery with a big toe that is being extremely uncooperative. It’s stiff, sore, and doesn’t want to help my foot walk smoothly. You will recognize me if you see me limping awkwardly toward you, my pins distinctly out of whack.
A physical therapist has been assigned to fiddle with, manipulate and macerate my hallux to get it where it has to go. Heat is being applied. Cold has been furnished. Exercises, ones that would bore to death a soul with healthy feet – a repeated ballet releve, rocking, wiggling—now earn my intensest interest. I have learned to pick up a marble with my toes and deposit it in a plastic bowl. A great achievement, don’t you know.
I looked to the Poetry Foundation for inspiration. A great poem called An Exchange between the Fingers and the Toes by the English wordsmith John Fuller describes a comical oneupsmanship between the sets of digits. In an interview, Fuller once explained that “a good poem takes some irresolvable complication, worries it to death like a dog with a bone, and leaves it still unresolved. The pleasure of the poem lies entirely in the worrying, the verbal growling and play. Life itself stubbornly remains entirely like a bone.”
In this verse, which speaks eloquently to my current state, the crafty fingers accuse the klutzy hallux at one point of being a “futile pig,” but the toes come back with eventual triumph:
Despite your fabrications and your cunning,
The deepest instinct is expressed in running.