The following is a much-abbreviated list of places where I’ve fallen down: Walgreens, airport jetway, university sidewalk, university staircase (outdoors), university staircase (indoors), a park, an amusement park, a parking lot, a museum, Mexico (amazing story), and countless other locales. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know I have a disability that comes from a neuromuscular illness. So when I fall, I do a phenomenal job. It’s dramatic and artistic and memorable. A real thing of beauty.
It’s not the actual falling down that creates the most awkward part of these scenes; it’s the getting up. I actually practice getting up off the ground at home. I have to plant my hands far apart from one another for balance and leverage. My legs lock and I throw my rear in the air before then regaining upright positioning. If you have seen a toddler spin around until dizzy, fall over and then begin again, that’s me.
I can even fall from a sitting position. It baffles even me. My sweet dog, Angel, is being taught to help me up when I fall, but we sometimes have moments of confusion as we are ironing out the kinks. One recent morning, I woke up and thought I had just enough time for a quick Angel walk before getting the kids to school. We had a good walk, lovely morning. I stopped two houses away from mine on the return trip to sit on a small retaining wall and pet Angel. I was just sitting there and then it happened. In a moment of distraction, I got startled by an Angel kiss and fell right off that wall. Angel, either thinking this is a fun game or wanting to practice her new pick-me-up skills, came over the wall with me.
Here’s where it gets dramatic and artistic and memorable. My shorts stuck to the wall as I descended. So I’ve fallen off this wall…while sitting…have a 100-pound dog on top of me…and I’m pantsless. My ankles are up on the wall with more shorts. I’m a little mortified. Angel is not all shaken. She is responsive, checking on me and getting into her supportive position. Then, she just moves on from the moment, playfully engaging the world again. I start to laugh, attempt my toddler-style re-centering, and get home as fast as possible.
I’m at peace with most of the clichés about falling down….be it about the nature in which one falls or how one gets up. Sure. I’m not mad at those. For me, though, I have been working through what meaning I assign to the falls. Inevitably, the meaning is a mash-up of what I think other people think and what I actually believe about myself in those moments. When I sense another’s embarrassment, I feel embarrassed. Or it goes the other way. Someone senses my embarrassment and they catch it. Introduce one person in that equation, or dog, who replaces embarrassment with acceptance and the entire meaning of the fall changes. It might change to a moment of levity or grief. Either of those can be relationally connecting, but whatever meaning brings embarrassment seems to encourage relational distance.
So, I fall down. It happens. If you’re with me, feel free to check on me, offer support, but be ready to move on. These are opportunities for us to strengthen our connection, which is ironic since they are born out of my inherent physical weakness. My falls are part of how I’ve become who I am. So are yours. And the next time you see me, ask me about Mexico.
Reflections on lessons learned from being a therapist and adoptive dad.