A tisket, a tasket, we all fall down…
This seemed to be the mantra going through my head when I took my young son skating for the first time last week. You see, although I was once pretty graceful on wheels, it has been nearly two decades since I strapped any to my feet. I could only cross my fingers and hope it would be just like riding a bike. And that if I did fall, it wouldn’t be too bad.
The fear of falling…kids don’t even have this, really. They climb to the top of trees, jump out of swings, hang by one arm from the monkey bars. When they do fall, they typically bounce right back up like it never even happened. I remember skating as a child, how the fear of falling never even entered my mind as I whirled around the rinks. And yet now it is all I can think about as I strap my foot into the wheeled shoe and begin a slow, clunky ‘walk’ to the rink floor, my son leaving me in the dust, propelling himself forward like a rocket, falling and getting back up maybe a dozen times in the process. He hits the rink full speed ahead, despite the fact he’s never been on skates before today, while I step slowly out onto the floor, holding the wall, feeling pretty good about the fact that I’ve managed to stay upright for 5 consecutive minutes on the skates.
The thing about skating, however, is that the only way to really do it, the only way to really enjoy it, is to lose completely that fear of falling that makes you hug the wall or move at a turtle’s pace along the rails. The only way to feel the rush of air against your face, to feel the gliding motions, the graceful movements, is to take the risk that yes, it is entirely within the realm of possibility that you…might…fall.
We’re all afraid of falling. It’s embarrassing, it hurts, and sometimes, it breaks something in us. This fear keeps us clunking along on the sidelines, wanting to join in the skating, but hugging the wall instead. It is, after all, wise to be cautious. No one wants to be embarrassed, hurt, or broken. And even though we’d recover from all of these things, our minds wrap themselves up in how horrible it would be to lose our balance. Fear plants itself firmly in our psyche, and eventually, we don’t even take the chance that maybe, just maybe, we won’t fall down.
But falling down and getting up again are as much a part of life as they are of skating. We all fall, somehow or another. We all trust, and sometimes, we have that trust shattered. We all take gambles that sometimes don’t pay off. We’ve all, at some point, been gliding along confidently, feeling on top of the world, when suddenly our front foot goes in one direction, and the back foot goes another, and we only have a second or two to process what is happening before the world turns upside down…and there we are, flat on our backs. Fallen.
I envy the way children bounce back up from a fall like it never even happened. Adults linger in their falls. We stay down for a long, long time, often only rising back up when someone has come along to help us. But the thing is, no matter how long we lie there, eventually we do rise back up. As Robert Frost once said, ‘This is the thing about life…it goes on.’
Before confronting any new situation, I often stop and ask myself, what is the worst that could happen? And if the worst happens, can I survive it? The answer is usually yes. It might be embarrassing. It might hurt. But more often than not, we’ll survive the worst if it does happen.
What is the worst thing that could happen if I let go of my fear and actually began to skate with my son? That I’d fall. That it would hurt. Maybe I’d break a wrist or an arm. Would I survive it? Of course. And so I did let go of that wall, and I skated for hours without falling. But I was only able to skate after accepting the risk that the worst could happen, that yes, I could fall.
Writing poetry is like this. Putting words down onto paper can be such a liberating experience that it feels like letting go of the wall and pushing yourself out into the rink, especially if you choose to share what you write with others. Everything in life is a risk, after all. But when writing poetry, what is the worst that can happen, really? That someone may have a different opinion of your poems than you do? I think we can all survive that. Think instead about the best thing that could happen - that writing can bring peace, clarity and a sense of purpose to your life. That even if you write only for yourself, if can become a way of healing, of empowerment, of release. It can become a path to joy. So why hold back?
Poem for the New Year
The promised snow
I see it in the glow
of lights. It
from the sky
to the ground
I have felt myself falling
these past few days
as a dream dies inside of me.
I cast it out
and like the snow
it rushes to the ground
but it doesn’t melt,
It rises up
coiled like a copperhead
knocking me down.
I lie there for a long, long time
My tears melting into the ground.
I wish I could melt into it, too.
But I don’t.
Instead, I rise
and brush the snow off my coat.
I go inside, where it is warm
I leave the dream outside.
on the cold ground
it slowly freezes.
Fitting, I suppose
since everything else is frozen
in that far away place
where the dream began.
But I’ve been struck
And I know
that being knocked down is
not the worst thing that can happen
to a soul.
Freezing, I think
is a far more terrible