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?
Love this, love you, love your wisdom…and have learned, as you have, that we truly are not the captains of our own fate. Accepting that is part of the journey of growing up. Accepting that with grace and still being open to adventure, as you and Bill have, is a part of never really growing old, no matter how close to, or past, 65 you are chronologically.
Bravo, Carol! Beautiful! I stumbled and smashed into a tree on July 3, breaking my humerus (upper arm bone) in a dramatic way, requiring surgery and a titanium plate and 12 “pins” and a 10-inch incision that will forever leave a scar But I, too, am astonished at how well I’m doing after less than 3 months. And how many conversations my various casts and slings led to, in which people — some strangers — shared their own stumbling tales. What a world it would be if all of us could share our stumbles and tumbles openly, without fear of “loosing face” but looking instead just to…..connect.
There is so much to enjoy about Beacon Hill, but beware the brick sidewalks’ treachery. It only gets worse. In winter, they become impossibly slick, so it’s often better to walk in the street. In my decade working on Beacon Hill, no small number of coworkers who thought they could handle the snow-covered bricks broke arms and otherwise hurt themselves in falls.
Thanks, Carol, for reflections on a fall. A few weeks ago, I got up from my desk and fell flat on my face on the floor–in the only narrow clear space in my office to fall into without hitting anything. After lying there in sheer shock, I ended up with only a sore wrist and shoulder plus rug-burned knees and a good shaking up. Reminds me of a time when, inspired by Carolyn Myss, a friend and I were looking for meaning in our rash of car troubles. What is this like? What in my life isn’t working?
Went into the bathroom early,. stood up and leaned down awkwardly, and through my rt hip out of joint..this was a total hip replacement in June..had it go out 3 times previously and thought I was “home free” since it had been 2 months since it had gone out..back to the ER in an ambulance. Also bruised the other leg, shoulder etc..but no blood, nothing broken except my ego..I am the the ONLY anterior approach hip replacement for my Dr. that has gone out..he is worried about his reputation, and I am worried about mine..TOUGH to get old & clumsy!Decided this is the new “cautious” me!! I am sure my kids think I am a “train wreck” since being so independent all my life and now needing help!!
Some comments posted to the Facebook link to this post:
Tom Hampson, Ryan McGrath, Marti Zeitz and 11 others like this.
Organism Formerly-Known As-Rudi — In other words, its the car’s fault!
Cristela Guerra — This…was beautifully brilliant Carol! So well-said though I’m sorry about your black eye! I think you should tell people you got it fighting off a mob of ninjas.
Margaret Benefiel — What excellent musings, Carol! (And it was great to have you and Bill at the board meeting last night. Thanks for coming!)
Lauren Sheppard — “Our ability to heal is nothing short of miraculous” so true and a wonderful read
Beautifully written, thank you for sharing and teaching me about stumbling stones. Gave me chills!
Pingback: 100 Days: What’s working, what’s not, what’s changing | A Year in a Room