Falling on Wisdom

Last fall I wrote an article about how cool I thought I was. Every time I used to get a mild enough injury–in other words, something as simple as a sore ankle–I would find the appropriate body part brace or bandage, play up a limp, and, with a very practiced performance of nonchalance and bravado in the face of what “must be” hellish pain, relish my newfound heroism. As I penned almost a year ago to date, I realized that a nasty sprawl severe enough to require an X-ray is not something I can merely affect and that I must actually take pain seriously.

I thought I learned my lesson.

What I had seen last year was a time-consuming process of inconvenient office hours, hospital waiting rooms, a lot of paperwork and an insightful peek into the convoluted world of insurance and health care–a process that ultimately ended in “There’s really nothing wrong with you, but we had to check to make sure.”

What I saw this year when I fell down the stairs ending (what had been) a very satisfying tour of campus for prospective students and their families was that same process, except one with a significantly greater amount of wincing and struggling.

When I fell, I laughed it off at first, mentioning to my tour that I am the clumsy tourguide; I was more embarrassed than anything, really. Again, though, my old habits slipped back into place as if I had never written my groundbreaking “concrete is hard” exposé–the one where I claim to have revoked the stupid idea that injuries are a sign of superiority. Each time Mrs. V would ask one of the tour guides to escort late-arriving prospective families to the location of an information session, I would excuse myself (rather obnoxiously, I’m sure), claiming invalid status.

But as I began to actually get up and use my legs a bit, I realized I couldn’t put even the slightest pressure on it, perhaps indicating a real injury. So once again, I found myself back in the Health Center, back with the paperwork, back to the hospital X-ray room, back to a very promising sunny afternoon (and a very promising going-out night) wasted. But as much as I had tried to play it off earlier in Admissions, my foot was killing me. It hurt. And really hurt.

But what really caught me off guard–besides the fact that this wasn’t something I was just playing up–was the feeling that I lacked control. I saw a pack of girls running by outside the Health Center, I saw students just walking around, going up flights of stairs, just milling about like it’s no big deal to be able to have two feet on which to stand securely.

I wanted to be able to bend down and put on a pair of shoes, or get up to turn on a light. I wanted to just go next door and see who was hanging out in the neighboring room and socialize. I wanted to have a late night out. I wanted to give tours again the next morning (like that would happen…). I wanted to just be able to climb into

my bed.

But I couldn’t.

All I know is that the consequences of my fall were hard to deal with. I hadn’t noticed how much of a good thing I had until it was gone. In fact, I am scared to get old–to have things breaking left and right, to have the possibility of losing even more control over my body, losing my mobility, my strength, my eyesight, my motor skills, my memory.

But there are still one-legged mountain-climbers, skiers and marathon-runners. For some people, this physical loss is a daily life-long struggle. Compare that to someone who gets a hang-nail and it ruins their entire day. Sometimes a major loss is an eye-opener to the larger world. Physical mobility can equal freedom in a sense, to not be held back by invisible boundaries to simple things – like for me, getting into my bed (well, even with two perfect feet that is sometimes a struggle because it is lofted, but that is quite beside the point).

Something as seemingly commonplace as falling down the stairs caused me, however, to have this awareness that I need to appreciate–greatly–what I do have.

Whatever happens in life that causes us to pause, to take notice of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, rather than just go through our daily routines, is something that must be important. Bad things do happen. Sometimes these are due to our own faults (perhaps I should have been looking where I was going when I fell down the stairs), sometimes due to no fault of our own – but yet from each thing that does cause us realize where we are at can give us all a better attitude toward the lives we do lead.

The point is that it doesn’t matter what you’re without, I think that old Joni Mitchell song line is very true: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” And for me, something as simple as a debilitating sprain allows me to appreciate the things I take for granted in life – whether it be my feet or something else, like my friends, my parents,

my freedoms.

So what else have I learned from this latest episode? Crutches are a poor excuse for a leg.