It is Winter and my thoughts have once again turned to falling and the way my fear of it changes my relationship to the world around me.
I’m pushing 60 and have observed more than once over the past several years that falling isn’t as fun as it used to be. The thrill has gone out of it. A serious business with potentially serious consequences.
I like to recall myself as a younger man, feet flying out from beneath me, laughing at the surprise of it all on my way down and, before barely (it seemed) making contact with the ground, bouncing up or rolling acrobatically to my feet.
It’s not so much that I never fell hard. I do recall playing catch with a frisbee on an icy field, losing my footing, and sliding with gathering speed until my knee made unfortunately solid contact with a rock. This was of course less than ideal for the knee which along with the rest of me spent the remainder of the afternoon in our local emergency room getting stitched up.
It is also true that over the following few days I was convinced that I had damaged my knee more than the doctor had recognized or let on. I knew this (or thought I did) because I couldn’t bend the knee. It turned out I that could (and should) have flexed the joint, but was immobilized by nothing more (or less) powerful than my fear of hurting myself. I couldn’t bend it because I was afraid to bend it. And by the time several days later I was able to coax myself out beyond my anxiety, the knee had stiffened, the surrounding muscles had weakened and it was by then much harder to get moving again.
On the whole that didn’t appear to dampen my enthusiasm for scampering around on the ice or anywhere else I wanted to be. These days, though, we step outside our home mindfully and with great care.
To be at home in our house significantly depends on doing things outside of it. We cross the lower field to our hen house to care for the birds and gather their eggs. We make our way across East-facing yard to fetch the wood that heats our home. We walk the length of our stone walkway to our car to go to work, or down the driveway to the road to check our mail. And for the last several weeks it’s been nothing but ice underfoot everywhere we look.
It’s enough to make me want to hole up and hunker down. But we don’t in large measure because we can’t and for that I’m grateful.
I found myself reflecting on this experience the other evening while listening to an exchange among presidential candidates, most of whom were appealing in significant measure to my readiness to feel afraid of the world around me as the basis for my wanting to support their ambitions.
But my own experience is that fear tends to diminish more than it protects, makes our lives smaller rather than improves our prospects. On the other hand, love with even a modest amount of courage enlarges our field of vision, connects us with one another and with the world around us.
It must be acknowledged that love too has its risks. They are undeniable and I have experienced a number of them. These risks, however, point us in the direction of the better angels of our nature and I hope to choose them more often then not. Venturing out even when the footing seems uncertain and the way forward less clear than I might wish.