The Art of Falling Down

Are you clumsy?

There’s a strange pleasure in having bruised knees and scuff marks on your shoes. Nothing new stays new-looking long and most of the dents and tears don’t even come with good stories, just a simple, “Oh, I don’t know. I must have tripped.”

Clumsiness comes from some combination of head-in-the-clouds inattention, awkward physical comedy, and, if you’re like me, a touch of recklessness.

T-minus 10 minutes to impact
T-minus 10 minutes to impact.

Last week, I went on a short snowmobiling tour. Just ten minutes after starting, I crashed the sled and was upside down in a ditch of soft powder, relaxed and reclining with my right foot stuck under the machine while the guide and Ted came sprinting to help me. They were, reasonably, totally freaking out. I was totally not.

When the sled was righted and I sat back down on it, the guide asked me “Are you okay?” I said yes. He repeated himself. I repeated myself. And I wasn’t lying. While I’d been nervous for the first leg of the tour, after flipping the sled, I felt much more calm and in control.

Falling, it seems, has the strange effect of making me less afraid.

I was terrified of road biking until I had my first big fall, scraping skin from both of my arms and leaving a welt on my hip as big as an egg. I was afraid of sailing until I capsized in the middle of Seymour Lake all alone, fighting against a too-strong wind and trying to get back to shore. Afraid of dropping the cliff until I land, too far back on my skis and forced to bail.

Because the impact is never as bad as my fears, I now know that while I’m afraid of falling, I’m not afraid of the fall itself. This makes me reckless, because I know that once I fall, the fear dissolves. Once I fall, I take stock of my body, stand up, and dust myself off. I brush snow from my shoulders, gently flick rocks out of my wounds, or shake water from my eyes. A less reckless version of myself would not have crashed that snowmobile. The less reckless me would have played it safe, would not have pushed herself to try to keep up with the more comfortable and more experienced members of her party. She wouldn’t have dared to try so hard. She also wouldn’t have enjoyed herself anywhere near as much. (Or had such a good story to tell, which, unfortunately, seems to be the story that is circulating amongst Stratton employees. “Liz from Marketing? She’s the one who flipped the snowmobile, right?”)

The most important thing to learn when trying something new is how to stop (this being my issue with the snowmobile. I’m accustomed to my right hand controlling the brake, not the accelerator). The second most important thing is how to fall.

Because you will fall. If you don’t, you’re not trying hard enough.

This reminds me of watching my nephew learn to ski. He fell a couple of times, but every time he did, my brother, my dad, and I immediately roared with laughter. “Nice one!” We’d yell as we scooped him up and placed him back on his skis. “That was awesome!”

We’re teaching him that falling is more than just no big deal, it’s downright fun. Even if it leaves you smarting, wincing, crying in pain, falling is fun.

Now if we turn this into a metaphor for life–? Puts quite a few heart-and-headaches into perspective. After all, if you’re not falling, you’re not trying hard enough.

But really, are you clumsy?


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