Time was quickly running out, and I did not want to be late. My all-important public image depended on it. In 60 seconds, I was expected at the hair salon for a color and cut – the same hair salon that charges 50% for late cancellations and cuts clients from their roster for multiple tardies.
On this particular Wednesday, I was so committed to staying on their good side I was willing to break the speed limit, rush a shitty parking job, and not walk but RUN the remaining block to their door. Picture an adult woman wearing a multi-colored backpack speeding down the sidewalk in platform tennis shoes.
Then, picture that adult woman catching a cement crack with her toe, plummeting to the ground and sliding a few inches. Had you been lucky enough to be sitting at the bar inside the 3rd Street bakery watching out the window, you would’ve been perplexed to see a skinny white chick in a blue flannel shirt suddenly rocket past the window and disappear, flattened like a pancake on the sidewalk.
As a rock climber who regularly slips and falls while bouldering 20-foot walls, I ought to have known the correct protocol. But this was not the gym and, outside of my usual element (with no chalk-dusted crash pads to catch my weight), I did the exact wrong thing, breaking my fall with both hands firmly planted onto the cement. Fortunately, my left hip and thigh absorbed about 40% of the hit. Oof.
My brain, though, took longer to reach the hard, fast reality of skin on pavement. I was running, then I wasn’t – does not compute. It never even registered the tiny, barely perceptible rise in the sidewalk that took me down. All at once, the things previously at or below my eye level were now above me – the two women with bright rainbow-colored hair sitting on the nearby bench; the man in the black winter coat walking toward me; the older woman peering out the window of the nearby salon.
“Are you alright?” the coat-clad man asked, more out of curiosity than compassion, as he never quite surrendered his full momentum forward. I assured him (and the ladies on the bench, who’d now craned their necks to gawk at the klutz sprawled on the ground) that I was.
Did I know that for sure? No. I could already see dots of blood appearing across the back of my left wrist and the palms of both hands. But I’m an American adult and, commensurate with a lifetime of cultural training, I dutifully popped up onto my feet and, with a laugh, announced I was fine.
Taking the handful of steps remaining between me and my destination, I entered the salon, unsure of who saw what or how embarrassed I should feel. It seemed the older lady sitting by the window was my only eyewitness. The look of concern on her face (plus the dirt caked across my left pant leg) must have convinced the man next to her I’d taken a real doozy of a spill, because he immediately offered me his seat. I accepted, forcing myself to go through the motions of a polite social exchange, even though my mind was still parked outside at the scene of the crime.
I alerted the receptionist of my (*ahem* on time) arrival, then sat and listened as my only witness – the older woman in the window – shared a story about a fall she’d taken earlier that week. We commiserated with each other for a few minutes before a stylist came to collect my kind companion, at which point I was suddenly and unceremoniously left to my own thoughts.
That’s when I felt them: the tears stinging at my eyes, forcing themselves out unbidden and certainly unwanted. I quickly swiped at them, hoping they would stop, but it appeared that a torrent was about to unleash. An awkward display of emotion was very last thing I needed. Abandoning my backpack beside my chair, I hurried across the salon to the single-occupant bathroom, where I ducked inside, locked the door, and looked straight into the tear-streaked face mirrored back at me.
Bracing myself with both scraped-up hands against the counter, I stared angrily at my reflection. “You’re okay, you’re okay,” I repeated to myself, more irritated than anything about the lack of control I felt over my strong outward reaction to what seemed like a straightforward series of events. I knew the facts: I fell. People saw. I scraped up my hands, wrist, knee, and hip. But I was okay, physically speaking. So, why the waterworks?
I thought of my kids, who fall more than I do – how they often cry afterward, even as we comfort them with assurances that they’re okay and there’s no need for tears. I now saw how difficult it truly was to heed such words because, despite my brain’s best efforts to instill calm using logic, my body, too, carried a memory of all the aspects my mind wanted to ignore. The physical pain and shock, the embarrassment of a public “failure” and looking silly, the experience of a reality that didn’t match up to my expectations. Whether I wanted to or not, my mind needed to process through these things, respond, and mourn – even if it had to force the situation.
So much of this event speaks to how we live our lives every day. We rush around, filling our schedules with thing upon thing, most of it “good,” perhaps, though not all necessary to our fulfillment or Bigger Purpose. The “should’s” and “have to’s” we burden ourselves with drive us at an astounding pace toward I don’t know quite what… productivity? Achievement? Approval?
But eventually, we’re bound to hit the pavement, either by our own missteps or a crack in the sidewalk beyond our control. (A global pandemic, for example). What then?
How practiced are we at slowing our pace enough to process through mistakes, failures, or setbacks?
How prepared are we to hold space for someone else laid out on the cement?
I ask because I’m not even sure how I’d respond to these questions. Yet, at this particularly complex juncture of our shared history, it feels especially essential that we figure them out. That is, if we hope to stay connected to ourselves and each other, to nurture the divine aspects within us.
In lieu of direct answers, I can at least share some steps that have felt intuitive and helpful for me in the past year:
- Getting really clear on what is most important to me and finding ways to deeply support those areas/relationships
- Paring down my schedule (like, waaay down), making significantly less money but plenty of space for actions that feel more meaningful, like rest and quiet
- Growing in my ability to be honest with myself about my needs and to better communicate those needs to my closest companions/partner
- Challenging myself with new activities that stretch my abilities in healthy ways, like rock climbing, singing with a band, or learning guitar
Consider this list a starting point (or don’t consider it at all), because your answers will likely be found in different ways unique to you. Whatever you do, just promise me you’ll give a little thought to the way you’re approaching the days ahead, keeping in mind that faster isn’t always better. Happiness is available at any point along the journey, and there really isn’t a prize for getting “there” first.