It was just before lunch and I was happily striding down Chestnut Street, rushing to fetch that Volvo we’re either going to keep or sell.
I never made it to the car. Catching my toe on a loose brick, I planted my face on the brick sidewalk. Luckily for my face, my right hand broke the fall a bit. Not so lucky for my hand. Sure changed my plans for the day. Instead of reading, writing, walking and playing with our granddaughter, I spent the day at urgent care and radiology, icing and resting. I was incredibly lucky — no broken bones, just a very sore hand and my first ever shiner.
I will also admit to a shaken psyche. One of the ways I calm myself when shaken is to try to make meaning from the event. Writer Carolyn Myss suggests that we treat the unexpected in our lives as a form of spiritual direction. The fall was certainly unexpected — what might it direct my attention toward?
In Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, spiritual writer Richard Rohr contends that once we pass midlife, success has nothing left to teach us. Only failure or that which we stumble over can wake us up to something new.
One of the joys of living in this house is the occasional serendipitous conversation that occurs in odd moments with whomever shows up in the kitchen. Early the morning after the fall, a housemate was asking about how I got my black eye. A house guest who was having breakfast at the table asked if I’d ever heard of stumbling stones in Germany. He said they were to wake people up to those who were lost during the Holocaust.
A Google search uncovered a fascinating project I knew nothing about. During the 1990s artist Gunter Demnig began making small brass-covered memorials (called Stolpersteine in German, stumbling stones in English) to Holocaust victims and placing them outside the places where they had either lived or worked. So far 40,000 of them have been placed in various European cities where the Nazis operated. Thousands of people have stumbled upon these stones and awakened to names of specific people who lived among them and were lost.
Where have all of these loosely connected associations and musings about stumbling and falling led me? Where have I been directed? What have I awakened to?
First of all, I feel more viscerally how fragile human life is. A one second stumble changed my whole day. It could have changed the whole course of my life. If I had fallen slightly differently I might have had a brain injury or lost an eye or even lost my life. Somehow the experience makes cherishing every moment even more of an imperative.
At the same time, I also feel more viscerally how strong and resilient we humans are. Each day the black eye looks a little better, the aches and pains recede and I am a little less shaken. Our ability to heal is nothing short of miraculous.
Finally, I’m struck by how mysterious it all is. Why did I survive my bad fall relatively unscathed while our friend John had two brain surgeries and is still in rehab as a result of his fall? We want answers to questions like this so we can protect ourselves, feel safer. Perhaps the biggest lesson for me is that in the end I don’t get to control or even understand what much of what happens to me. I am in the hands of Mystery – can I just relax and enjoy the ride even when it’s sometimes bumpy?
What experiences have you stumbled over? What experiences have awakened you to something new?