February 28th, 2006
When You Fall

I fell last night like a big, clumsy dork. My fuzzy slipper got trapped under the couch while my upper body was still experiencing forward momentum and I fell. I didn’t get hurt or anything. My pride was wounded a bit, but the only ones watching me were of the feline persuasion and they see me do stupid things all the time. It amuses them.

The human body rebels against falling. It goes against our drive to protect ourselves. That sensation of falling is actually terrifying because of this. The moment before you fall is like that crystal clear moment before you know you’re going to be in a car crash. Your mind is strangely calm.

So, I’m teetering there, trying to dislodge my fuzzy slipper and I’m thinking, “No, I don’t want to fall! Must get free! Must stay upright!” and my all my self-preservation instincts are fully engaged. Fear is the keyword here.

But at one point I realize I’m going to fall. There’s just no way around it. It’s going to happen. So something in my mind clicks and surrenders. I’m going down. That gut-level, instinctive fear of falling melts into acceptance of the inevitable. I know the only thing I can do now is try and minimize the damage. All this happens in hyper-brain speed, of course.

I can feel my body relax as I start to fall. My mind is clear of thought and fear. You know what they say about a branch needing to bend or it breaks, right? I drop everything I’m carrying and catch myself in a position so I don’t damage my knee.

My point? I do have one, promise.

It brought me right back to high school figure skating. I was on my high school figure skating team and on the hockey precision line (think dance line on skates). Before I say any more, I want to make sure I impress upon you that I was not a GOOD figure skater. Not by any stretch of the imagination. My ass had a very special relationship with the ice. They met often and had extended conversations. So did my hips, knees, chest, elbows and sometimes even my head.

You fall a lot in figure skating, especially when you suck as bad as I did. Because of the falling, figure skating is not a sport in which you can FEAR. If you fear while you’re on the ice, you’re stiff and screwing up and you will spill.

I was not one without fear.

I can still hear my figure skating coach screaming at me to “moooooooooooove!” her voice echoing through the arena. She wanted me to move faster, of course, which meant falling harder. God, sometimes I really wanted to hurt her.

I knew this girl who wore skating outfits made of material that would make her slip and slide on the ice when she fell. She embraced falling and tried to make it fun. She knew that it was a part of the sport she loved and had completely accepted that. No fear. This girl was like that in life, too. She pursued everything passionately, accepting risk as the cost of happiness.

And there was this little girl at the rink I used to go to on weekends. Tiny bit of a thing. She must have been 7 or 8. She’d do salchows, toe loops, axels. She’d fall and pick herself and launch into another round of spins and jumps with a laugh and toss of her head. No fear, this child. Of course, she had less distance to fall.

I admired these two people a lot for their lack of fear, a state I was never able to achieve.

Although I’m getting better at doing it in my life. When I know I’m going to fall, when it’s completely inevitable, I’m getting better at surrendering, accepting and bending into it. So figure skating taught me something important, at least.

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