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Lessons of the Fall

It was a spectacular fall. And I don’t mean the season. I mean being upright one minute and flat on the ground the next, wondering what the heck happened.

I won’t go into the (boring for you, embarrassing for me) details, but suffice to say I hit the ground with a resounding thud. It wasn’t the first time something like this has happened — I’m not particularly clumsy, but I am a little aggressive on my mountain bike and have taken my share of spills, many of which resulted in skinned knees, road rash and, on one occasion, stitches in my elbow (and a splint that ran the length of my arm from wrist to shoulder).

This time, though, it was different. And, I have since discovered, entirely necessary.

So here I am, laid up with my fractured foot encased in an orthopedic boot only Frankenstein would find aesthetically pleasing. I’m hobbling around on crutches, very much at the mercy of family and friends, and moving at the speed of molasses on a cold winter day.

I’ve had a fair amount of time over the past few weeks to contemplate my predicament and the circumstances that landed me here. At first I railed on myself for allowing it to happen. Rather than consider the factors that contributed to this mishap — such as my own inattention — I focused on the ramifications. I had work to do and places to go. I had a plane to catch. I didn’t have time for this kind of nonsense.

But then it occurred to me, as though some benevolent being had pulled the realization like a string from the deep recesses of my brain, that this misfortune was, in reality, quite fortunate. It was exactly what I needed.

Like many people, I tend to live my life in a mad rush, moving smartly from one thing to the next, not really paying attention to the moment at hand. This particular injury, however, brought all my activity to a halt.

And my subsequent immobility has given me pause.

As breaks go, mine is fairly run-of-the-mill. It will heal on its own, and in six to eight weeks I’ll be back up to my usual frenetic pace.

But then again, maybe not. Maybe the lessons I’ve learned in the aftermath of that fateful fall — and there have been many as I maneuvered clumsily through my small part of the world — will stay with me.

So what have I learned?

1. Be present and aware in every moment. Now, my first response to this little nugget — and seeming cliché — was that the skinned knee, road rash, and bumps and bruises would have sufficed. A broken bone was wholly unnecessary, right? Wrong. I know very well that a skinned knee and some road rash wouldn’t have stopped me. They may have slowed me down for a couple of days, but the overall effect would have been minimal.

A broken bone was necessary to get my attention. To make me stop and think about my way of being. And I thank my lucky stars it worked. Because if it hadn’t, the next set of circumstances could have been much more dramatic. The Universe has a way of delivering the lessons we need in the most effective way.

2. It’s all right to ask for — and accept — help. That’s a tough one. My utter dependence and lack of autonomy have been harder to cope with than the pain caused by the broken bone. While medication relieves the latter, the former are much harder to treat.

I grew up taking care of myself. When I was sick, I took care of myself. When I was hurt, I took care of myself. That’s what I do. So to give in and ask someone for assistance (which, by the way, I would be happy to provide if the situation were reversed), well, that’s a lot easier said than done. For me, creating extra effort for anyone, or being the source of any perceived consternation is unthinkable. Not to mention that it’s a sign of weakness. Except, in reality, it isn’t. Because relationships are built on that kind of give and take, helping and being helped.

3. My compassion for people with any kind of physical challenge has grown enormously. As I’ve struggled to open a heavy door while on crutches or make my way up a flight of stairs or cross a busy street, I am more aware of the strengths and abilities I have taken for granted. I am fortunate that my infirmity is temporary; many people live their entire lives this way — or worse — and a touch of consideration and human kindness can make a big difference.

4. I’ve learned patience. Patience with myself, and patience with others. For the most part, we’re all doing the best we can — even the slowest among us — and trying not to be in the way.

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