Yesterday I fell.
My body crashed against concrete, and all my weight came down on my right hip and shoulder, while skin was dragged from my elbow and hand. The action of falling seemed to go on forever. I witnessed the ground rising up to meet me, taking an eternity before it smashed against my bones. I angled my body to the right as it moved through the air, trying to protect my phone in my left pocket. I entertained a parade of thoughts in the second or two before the ground whacked into me: You idiot. You should have been looking down. Put your right arm out to break the fall. This is pride because you were feeling so bloody clever at having finished your tax. Hold your head away so you don’t smash your teeth. How can the great walker fall? You haven’t fallen since Finisterre. Not concrete. Not asphalt. No. No. You were going too fast. You brought this on yourself. You are an idiot.
And then the tears.
A little boy approached on his bike. He slowed to look at this unexpected sight – a lady face down on the pavement, crying.
“Are you ok?” he said.
“Yes,” I sniffed.
He nodded. “Be careful,” he said, then pedalled away at speed.
I don’t want to be careful. I don’t want to watch my back and check the path for cracks. I don’t want to pack seconds of everything “just in case”. I don’t want to think of rainy days. I don’t want to walk in a world where every pace is monitored.
But I also don’t want to fall. It’s scary. Something happens when we fall. Something decidedly outside of our normal, constructed, adult world.
There I lay on the ground by the Elwood canal, sobbing into the dirt. I couldn’t stop. I was like a child, choking on sobs as the adult part of me looked around to make sure no-one could see. I knew this was shameful somehow, but couldn’t stop it. Yes, there was pain. Skin had ripped and bones were assuredly bruised. But that didn’t account for the wracking, choking sounds and the tears that would not stop coursing down my face. I tried to stand and could barely drag myself to a sitting position. When eventually I began to move, it was in the gait of an ancient, feet not trusting the earth to hold me upright.
I was old. I was a child. I was ashamed. I was afraid.
What is it about falling that shook me so? A dent to the ego? The realisation that I’m getting old? Children fall and pick themselves up in an instant, but old people’s lives can be cut short by a fall. Some never recover from the earth rushing toward them in that telescopic fracturing of all that is normal.
Yesterday I fell from a kind of gracelessness – a lack of gratitude. I take for granted that I can stand. That I can walk. That I am strong. I also take for granted that the earth doesn’t betray me, and maybe that is arrogant. Maybe I need to pay more attention. To take for granted is not to love. Maybe I was so caught in my own petty triumph over paperwork that I had forgotten to pay attention to the earth.
Today, everything hurts. Hips, shoulder, elbow, skin, ego – they are all shouting. But when next I walk, I will remember to check the earth as well as the sky. The cracks in the pavement have their own story to tell.
While we are talking about falling, I have been prompted once again to consider modern sins. Caroline Baum asked some pertinent questions about contemporary misdemeanours, and the authors we look to for moral guidance, over at the Booktopia site. Have a look.
She set me to thinking.
Is it a “sin” not to tick the carbon offset box when I book an airline ticket, if I believe in action to arrest climate change? Is it a lie to say that I don’t believe that the airline will do something honourable with that money? Is it selfishness?
And coming through customs, is it honesty that sees me declaring every single thing in my luggage, or is it really just fear? No, there’s no righteousness to be had in that moment! Fear wins every time. I’d like to say I was taking the high road, but fear keeps me true. What does that say about the settings of my moral compass, I wonder?
Thanks Ms Baum for making me ponder again.
If you’d like to see a conversation about how tricky it is to be good, Big Ideas recorded a panel at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. It’s between me, Caroline, Hannie Rayson and Charlotte Wood, and the link for it is below in blue. They are deeply thoughtful women and I was fortunate to share a stage with them. I apologise in advance for my dodgy American accent!
It’s the little things that are hardest, isn’t it? The nuances? As Bertolt Brecht said…
The sharks I dodged
The tigers I slew
What ate me up
Was the bedbugs
May you keep escaping the bedbugs!
I’m planning on being back in form for a couple of bookish Melbourne events in the next week or so, and would love your company at them.
Next Wednesday 12th September, I’ll be at the Grumpy Swimmer Bookstore in Ormond Road Elwood from 7pm, where Clifford is hosting a night of story-telling on the theme of water. Ten people each speak for five minutes. $10 admission includes wine, or coffee, and all the stories. Come along and hear tales of waves and rivers and waterfalls and maybe tears. I promise I won’t repeat this one!
And on Sunday September 16th from 2.30pm, I will be at the Thornbury Theatre for Women of Letters from 2.30pm. Five of us – Sally Heath, Sarah Blasko, Helen Garner, Kate Mulvany and me – have been invited by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire to deliver a Letter to our Unfinished Business. I’m still wrangling mine, but I have given up on writng to the Elwood pavement! The show is sold out, but Marieke says they may release balcony tickets and she will let me know if that happens, so let me know if you want to be advised – or check on Facebook.
Watch the cracks!