The skills Michael Toner learned in war and honed over decades on the stage carry him now.
The focus and concentration. The ability to stay calm and present. The dedication to the moment.
Sometimes, when the pain overwhelms him, he can only fight through the moment.
"Oh, the pain is back," he will say with an apologetic smile. "I'll have to get the nice duty nurse."
And then there are the moments of uncertainty and vulnerability that come at night.
But other times, when the pain eases, he relaxes and feels almost set apart from himself. As if he is watching a character on a stage. "Hey, my body is calming down," he will tell himself. "It's not too much pain. It's not too bad."
And, in this way, like an actor approaching a role, Toner, a Philadelphia theater veteran of more than 40 years, focuses on the next moment, the next beat of his recovery - on the long road ahead after an unsolved hit-and-run in Center City this month left him without his left leg.
"That is my goal now," Toner said from his hospital bed last week. "To go from moment to moment - to be able to do that successfully in my therapy, as you would want to do it successfully as an actor on the stage."
Toner, 68, has built a respected career on local stages, specializing in the bleak realism and dark comedy of Irish dramas - a love formed as a child in Mayfair through Irish literature and folklore passed down by his parents and grandmother. A passion he refined after serving as a recon scout and infantryman in Vietnam, by earning a master of arts degree in Anglo-Irish literature and drama from University College Dublin. And then, through all those years on the stage.
Years of love and steady work, but not riches. Years often spent working a day or night job to sustain his passion. Years where inspiration could always be found in that singular line of his beloved Samuel Beckett: "You must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on."
Through it all came a rich, meaningful life. A life of fulfilling work.
Then, the crash. He was running late-night errands after rehearsals for David Simpson's Crossing the Threshold Into the House of Bach, a one-man play he was performing at Amaryllis Theater Company. He was struck near 11th and Market. A passerby found him. He remembers nothing.
"I would have liked the person to have gotten out of the vehicle to help me get to the hospital, because I assume it wasn't deliberate," he said. Then, with a dash of mordant humor befitting Beckett: "Unless it was a theater audience member upset over my acting, and there might be plenty of those around."
And now he relies on that strength of spirit in his new role - his most challenging ever. A spirit, he said, shaped as a young man home from war. He would wake up and tell himself: I survived that. No one is shooting at me. I have my legs and limbs. I am breathing air. I can go out and do something creative today. And one deepened through years of bringing to life the souls of broken and beautiful characters - ones "that move into your soul and leave a resonance that gives you a beautiful outlook on life," he said.
The support has been overwhelming, he said. A host of theaters have held postshow stage appeals and passed buckets requesting donations to help with Toner's recovery. And plans are being made for a benefit show.
A visiting friend, the playwright Michael Hollinger, suggested last week that the benefit should showcase one of Toner's plays that has not been produced.
Another friend, Bernard Havard, reminded him during a visit that he has his own acting to look forward to.
Havard is artistic director of the Walnut Street Theatre, the person who gave Toner the opportunity to achieve perhaps the biggest accomplishment of his career: a one-man Beckett showcase in the mid-1980s.
By the end of the run, Toner was performing to sold-out houses. Unable to find a seat, Havard sat in the aisle. Afterward, he told Toner: "Michael, that was quite wonderful."
And it was Havard who cast Toner in a leading role in the Walnut's production of Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten, set for a national tour this spring.
When he visited Toner last week, Havard looked his injured friend over and said with dramatic flourish: "You know you're still on contract, don't you?"
And that is Toner's motivation now: to work, moment by moment, to get back to the stage. To the role that's waiting for him.