Smith: On-court injury leads to changes off it

About three weeks ago, I suffered two severe injuries while playing basketball at a local gym.

For three days following my fall on the basketball court, the pain in my back was so bad that getting out of bed was excruciating, and walking was extremely uncomfortable.

Although I am healing, I have minor lingering discomfort in my back and have intermittent pain on the left side of my rib cage, which I have self-diagnosed as bruised ribs. I spend most of my days with a fairly tight elastic bandage wrapped around my midsection to ease the pain of the rib injury.

As someone who has enjoyed very good health his entire life, the basketball accident and the subsequent pain and healing process have served to remind me of our fragile nature. That, in turn, has reminded me of the importance of living in the moment.

The concept is known as "mindfulness," and I was reminded of its mental and physical benefits by my girlfriend, Laura, who is reading, "Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness" by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

In the book, Kabat-Zinn describes the benefits of mindfulness, which is an adaptation of the Eastern philosophy of paying attention to the present moment, and doing so "non-judgmentally." I'm not sure what the non-judgementally part means — Laura hasn't gotten there yet — but the rest of the concept is how I have tried to live most of my adult life.

It's not easy, particularly during the holidays when we seem to have too much to do and too little time in which to do it. While we're fretting about a future we may not see, or one in which the events play out far differently than we hoped or expected, we are missing moments that impact us in subtle ways and contribute greatly to our overall health and well-being.

Recently, a friend was experiencing some stress about an upcoming meeting at work. While he did not have a presentation to make and did not appear on the agenda with any planned contribution, he was not looking forward to spending time he did not have and, because he is shy, spending it with the chance he may be called on for a comment or to answer a question.

I reminded him that while it is true that he may be asked to participate, it is also true he may not. I also told him that there was even a chance that the meeting would be canceled.

The larger point was actually two: He was fretting about something over which he had almost no practical control and while doing so was missing the moments that we all remember days or weeks later.

Most business meetings are forgotten shortly after they are completed, but we all remember, at least for a time, a special smile, kind words, the scent of a flower, a beautiful sunset and the taste of good food. When we worry about the future, we miss the present.

My back has healed considerably and my ribs are getting better, though it will be at least a couple of weeks before I am fully recovered. I have decided that at age 57, I have played my last basketball game and plan to switch to tennis, which I can play with my son, Roy. Most important, though, my pain has served to remind me that the most important time in our lives is the moment we are experiencing right now.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to

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