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.

Be careful.

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!


17 thoughts on “The Fall

  1. I was twelve – it was on a farm just outside Cowra. I climbed a tree. I tentatively walked out on to a branch and reached for something to steady myself. It was dead, came away in my hand and I toppled to the ground – some three metres or so beneath me. My cousins laughed and in truth I recall feeling foolish. I stood up. My ankle – my right ankle I think – felt wobbly. I hobbled near to assorted aunts and uncles. No one especially interested. I hobbled away – and hobbled around over the following two days telling myself it couldn’t have been too serious. Which in the end it wasn’t. No thanks to those “in loco parentis”! The next time I fell it was a trip up some stairs. I was a university student. I broke my thumb. I was in plaster for four weeks – happily coinciding with a vacation – during which time none-the-less I had a part-time job packing polaroid cameras – manageable despite the plaster and thanks to an employer ignoring what might at first have seemed a lame duck. The third time I suffered a fall was in a university classroom in Japan where I was demonstrating in dramatic style a dialogue from which I was teaching. I tripped over my feet and fell flat on my face. No student moved. When the ringing in my ears seemed to be abating I gingerly reached up to my face and noticed blood on my hand. Keeping my head turned from the class I asked to be excused a moment and went to the change-room alongside. Some paper towelling revealed a gash inside my mouth – tooth puncture – nothing serious. Back to class. Feeling a little unsure of my hitherto invincible sure-footedness, mind! And the fourth time I fell – mirrored almost perfectly so in your account here – Ailsa – was in my 60th year. At what may well have been my final visit with friends to the Shrine of my teacher hero in the city of Hagi (Sh?in Jinja) I spied one of the plums in vivid deep pink blossom and raced across the swept and naked earth garden alongside Sh?in-sensei’s famous little school-house “Shoka-son Juku” – and didn’t notice the pine-tree root snaking its way in my path – and went into a full frontal headlong fall – captured perfectly as a rush-to-earth photograph by the digital camera clutched in my hand. Ooph! But I was up at once. Left palm scored deeply – slight welling of blood along the furrows. RM moleskins protecting my knees – though later I found the grazes. Moving okay – till the following day. Wondering if I had cruelled the 88-temple walk I was due to commence just some weeks later! But everything was okay. Nevertheless a fright. Inducing the sense of how easily it might have been worse. Though still protected by the gods it would seem. No more falls – till now – touch wood! Last week-end a walk down the coast from here at Caves Beach along the fire-trails and coastal tracks through the Wallarah National Park to Catherine Hill Bay – followed the next day by another walk along the Fernleigh Track walking/cycle way between Belmont and Adamstown in Newcastle – thinking of Kurt FEARNLEY – who had just picked up a silver medal at the paralympics in London – whom I often see training with his tricycle along this same track. Apropos of which – I caught a few scenes from the Olympics – but found my interest turned off by the early obsession with medal count. However – and thank-you our national broadcaster – I am choked up every time I watch the extraordinary achievements of my fellows of all lands who show that the lack or loss of limbs or other rearrangements of chromosomes do not by any means mean lesser! Heroes all of them.

      1. Dear Jim,
        APologies for my tardy response. I haven’t been able to type because the shoulder locked up on me. Seems fine now. Phew!
        Another wonderful reply, full of images that are so vivid. Maybe more so just now – every fall made me wince.
        It’s part of life, isn’t it, but somehow I forget that and begin to feel invincible out there on the road. Always good to be reminded of fragility, I suspect.
        And to be reminded by the actions of others. I’m so with you on the Paralympics. I really wasn’t engaged much by the Olympics this time, and yes, it might have had something to do with the medal obsession of the media. But the Paralympians inspire awe and wonder. I hope they will be given the homecoming and the applause they deserve. I’ve found them thrilling and exciting, funny and earthy, and genuinely heroic.
        Thanks again for your words and reflections. I particularly loved the plum-tree fall, if we must pick favourites. Such a poetic setting!
        Keep upright.

  2. Ailsa I feel your pain at falling down boom ! It always makes you feel so undignified and you always hope that no one witnessed the tumble

    1. Thanks Joan,
      I think I had forgotten what the shock of it does to the physical body. I have no idea why I couldn’t stop crying. It was like some part of my system just made the decision to make me cry. But my little boy witness was very sweet – I keep hoping I didn’t frighten him. It must have been an odd sight for him. Kids are so great about falling, most of the time. They just accept it as part of life, and get on, whereas it was such a big deal for my bones to tumble. Ridiculous.
      Here’s to keeping the eyes open and the body upright! x

  3. Ailsa,
    I turn 70 next month. I’ll repeat that. SEVENTY. How did that happen? Eight months ago I was late for a meeting because I decided it was too lovely a day not to park the car in Westerfolds Park and walk the remaining time. As usual my timing was out and I had to virtually run [remember I’m 70] and when I was within 20 metres of my destination I missed a low step, and, as you explained Ailsa, my life moved into another frame. I must have run/staggered for several minutes before I accepted I was going down. I didn’t cry. I swore. When I was asked by the kind people who appeared from local restaurants if I was okay. I told them I was *&$#%. I had my knees x-rayed [very swollen] no damage to worry about. Eight months later I am reminded every day that my knees are not and will never be the same. That’s what happens at 70. So take heed and take care. Trish

    1. Dear Trish,
      I’m so sorry, Trish. I hope the damage from it hasn’t stopped you from being able to walk for pleasure. It sounds like you sustained something lasting.
      That said, it sounds like your sense of humour was not damaged one iota by the incident, and hopefully that continues to be the case.
      It’s funny, this business of getting older – which we begin to do from birth, of course! I’ve only really started to be aware of bodily changes in the last ten years or so. I felt pretty invincible and unquestioning of things physical until my late thirties or early forties. Now I don’t take for granted my body’s ability to propell me, or to withstand extremes. I’m much more grateful to my body than I used to be. More aware of it – not in a way that makes me do things very differently, if I’m honest. Just that I do feel grateful to it when it does its work.
      Which seems to suggest that I don’t think of the body as “I”.
      Now we’ve opened another can of worms….
      Take care and take heed, you said.
      I will. Thanks Trish.

  4. Yet when others do see the indignity – there is a shared sense of fellow-feeling ad an undertone of hope that the one who has fallen has NOT seriously injured themselves. Which is why the laugh is not AT but hopefully WITH – I reckon. Along the same lines as why we have an inordinate sense of wanting to make a joke while allowing ourselves to be sheep at security check-in places – yet knowing that umbrage and terrorist cries will surely ensue should we try to lessen the tension/anxiety/frustration. No harm intended withal!

      1. Laughing WITH not AT is one of the great pleasures, isn’t it? But I have to say that I have got a little better at laughing AT myself, I hope. I was nervous about writing this post, feeling that it was a bit silly to admit to the fall and even more so to admit to my response to it. But then I figured that my stupidity and vulnerability and mistakes are actually the biggest part of me, and I had better own up pronto! And also, sitting outside myself, I have to admit I could see how funny it must have looked – if there had been an audience. I LOVE a pratfall, a band-skin moment, when a skilled comedian can pull it off. Shame that my gag was wasted, really. Had there been a few commuters to see it, it might have given them their best laugh of the day.
        I’m not going to try it again as an act of civic humour though!

  5. OOhhh…. nasty fall! I hope you’re OK.
    Ah, that thing of crying in public. It doesn’t have to be a literal fall…
    Everything you describe underscores the fragility of the strongest among us. The need to be in control of, if not our whole destiny, at least the next step forward. The expectation that the ground will hold us, the need to remain upright and intact. And that sudden reminder that we are small, vulnerable, and so often just plain lucky.

    1. Yes, lucky…
      That is the word that resonated most for me. Particularly in the light of Jim’s reminder about the Paralympians. The sheer ordinary luck of having a body that is functional and can take me into the world.
      And my sheer stupidity at not being more mindful about it.
      I was having something of an empty-headed moment when I fell. Back to concentrating and staying present, perhaps?

  6. This was part of my comment I left at the Booktopia site on sin –
    ” And the biggest sin in my book is not being true to myself/yourself.
    I see sin for the word it is (missing the mark),so if you lead with your heart instead of your hurt,you shouldn’t miss.
    And don’t think this advice is coming from an expert archer either,
    sometimes I miss the board altogether and when I do hit a bulls-eye it is cause for celebration,but I try to keep my aim true,and try not to harm people with my hurt.
    I may never get a medal for my archery,but like the Tin Man it is heart that I’m aiming for.
    Oh…that reminds me of another author to add to the list –
    L. Frank Baum.
    Any relation Caroline ?-) ”

    Sorry to hear about your fall Ailsa (it looks painful),but maybe it’s just one of those bad falls that life dishes out to make us ponder…well life. Like the bad fall I had last Friday when I was made redundant from a Full-time job I held for 24+ years at a major Swedish furniture chain…
    yes,you’re probably trying to guess who they are,but I will not name them here.-)
    At 47 (48 this month) I could sit down and cry about my fall,too…but I’m just going to dust myself off,try not to think about how old my license says I am,and keep walking…not that there is any guarantee I won’t sit down further along the path and start bawling like a baby,if I fall again,but while I have a bit of time (and a little bit of money) I’m going to enjoy the scenery of the walk I’m on and try to find the path I want to take now,and not just the path I have to take.

    1. HI Darren,
      Great comment at Booktopia. I’m sure Caroline will be engaged by it.
      But more importantly, I’m so sorry to hear of your “bad fall.” 24 years is a very long time to give your skills to an organisation (which will remain nameless), and it must have come as a shock to the system. I’m really sorry. It’s so hard for me to imagine what that must have been like. With the exception of my three years on Neighbours, I’ve never had a job that lasted longer than three months, and so I can’t imagine the wealth of connections and friendships and history that must be built into such an extended time in a workplace. I hope that you are able to maintain relationships with those who have been your companions and “tribe”.
      Even more so, I hope you enjoy every bit of scenery on the new paths that open, and that you know immediately the path that is your own. And if you do at any stage feel the need to “sit down and bawl” – do it. It won’t harm anyone, I’m sure – and if your system should need to grieve at any point, it might even be helpful. To stretch the fragile metaphor of my little tumble, the tears eventually turned into laughter. And both of those things release some kind of good chemical into the system, I”m told.
      I guess what I mean is that whatever your response is, it is bound to be good if it comes from that true heart you wrote of in your Booktopia response.
      For now, it sounds like you only need to walk the new paths. May they give you great vistas and plenty of possibility.
      Thanks for your words. I wish you great adventures and wonderful outcomes, full of surprise and potential.
      And happy 48!
      The thing I love most about each birthday (and I really really love birthdays), is the opportunity to mark my gratitude at still being on this crazy planet!

      1. Hey,don’t worry about me,I’m fine.
        Unlike you I saw the fall coming,there just wasn’t that much I or most of the other full-timers could do about it,but hang on and hope we made the cut.Well,in a way I was hoping not to.
        24 years of mind numbing fork lift driving is enough to make you wonder what crime you committed all those years ago.
        But like the movie “Bronson”,sometimes you have to admit to yourself who’s keeping you in prison,if not yourself ?
        To put things into perspective for me,I heard from my mother that an ex-neighbour (not one of your TV show cast members) who I grew up with,had to have both breasts removed last Thursday after it was discovered (from a similar fall on a walking path that you had) she had multiple lumps in her breasts. She is about 2 years younger than me and has a young daughter,so she has every reason to cry after her fall,and keep on crying.
        My “fall” is just a trip compared to hers.
        But I feel good about leaving that big blue box…it feels destined in some odd way.I just have to choose another path through life that appeals to me before the money runs out and the bankers come knocking on my/their front door.
        Hopefully I’ll have,as my x-employer use to quote to the staff in the training rooms ” a glorious future!” .
        Sounds a bit “Hitler Youth” doesn’t it ?
        I wonder if the head of that company was ever a member of a Nazi party?
        Anyway,if my team (Sharks) makes the Grand Final this year at least I have a clear diary entry for that day now,and will be able to go down to Sydney to watch them.
        But that is probably hoping for more of a miracle, than for a real glorious future.-)

        1. Darren, what funny, clear, sound, sane perspectives you have on the world. And what fantastic connections you make!
          I hope that your ex-neighbour is OK now. I’m familiar with that scenario (or one that sounds the same) via a friend, and it has so many conflicting and conflicted issues that can present. But in the end, what choice? Such a frightening scenario.
          I will barrack for the Sharks, as the Geelong Cats went out last night and my September is officially now in tatters! I always thought the Cats could walk on water, but maybe now all the miracles have headed North to your team. Go Sharks!

  7. This is from almost two years on: And – for Darren B – with his comments about the “glorious future” he was being promised by his former section chief/boss – and wondering whether this was Hitler Youth/Nazi influenced? Earlier this year I read a marvellous/terrible/wryly observed autobiography of growing up post-WWII in the Transylvanian region of Romania by retired UTas academic Teodor FLONTA: “A Luminous Future” – the glorious future promised to the youth of Romania by its own communist dictatorship (far left or far right – while superficially distant – both are joined in disregard for the human rights of citizens) undermined – of course – by the petty individuals given power over others. Such power – without the protective checks and balances and safeguards we have taken for granted in our own society – until recent days! (Bigot Brandis/Tony Abbott – Minister for Women and Indigenous Affairs – Really? – they ask from abroad/Joe HOCKEY’s “take-from-the-Poor-and-give-to-the-Rich” philosophy…et al!) I hope Darren B – in the meantime – that you have found fulfilment in other pathways! Thanks, Ailsa.

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