Falling is associated with losing control.
We miscalculate the distance and we trip. We overestimate our abilities and we fall short. We fall down and get hurt. We scrape our knees and, perhaps, bruise our sense of infallibility.
There’s a physical gracelessness to falling, but there’s also a spiritual grace associated with it.
When we fall — whether in the street or into the arms of a lover — we experience what it is like to see those around us coming to our aid. We’re banged up and bleeding, or we’re gobsmacked with joy, unable to talk about or think about anyone or anything, except our beloved. We’ve bonked our heads and we see things differently. The world seems to blur and soften as our hearts fall open.
I remember my mom telling me that as a child of perhaps seven or eight, she had an epiphany while playing in the woods near her home:
“Trees were dropping their leaves. I looked at the ground where they were piling up, slick with rain, and I started to cry. I realized that when each leaf fell, its life was over. It would never green up again. Something about that just hit me. I suddenly understood on some deep level that everything would at some point, die. Even me. Even my mom.”
Dreams of Falling.
In order to learn to walk, we must become comfortable with the idea of repeatedly falling down. If we never conquered this fear, we’d all still be crawling around on our hands and knees. It seems silly to think of it that way, but, in fact, it is true. We must literally overcome the forces of gravity in order to learn to walk upright.
Since most of us master this without so much as an afterthought, why do we later develop a fear of falling?
In our dreams, we find ourselves falling out the window, falling from the sky, falling on our faces, falling to our knees.
We startle ourselves awake, sure that we’ve just been pushed over the edge.
According to Denise Linn, author of The Secret Language of Signs, “Falling can be a sign of feeling a loss of control. […] Often we have to risk and fail before we can succeed” (150).
We dream of falling when we feel unable to manage our anxiety about the tenuous nature of life.
“Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” ~ Chinese Proverb
I was badly injured and hospitalized for nearly three days afterward. I don’t remember much of the accident itself. I only remember the feeling of absolute vulnerability that accompanied the experience. I remember doctors and friends reassuring me as I rested in post-op after having plastic surgery on my face.
What did I learn from falling?
I discovered how much love there was for me in the world. Falling forced me to ask for help — and you know what — help arrived from all corners of my life. For weeks afterward, I had to call on others to do what I could not do for myself. I began to see the value of developing a willingness to lose control, to be vulnerable, to allow others to see my soft underbelly.
I let go and I fell deep into my life. I saw the strength it takes to lose control and let myself be truly seen.
With my accident, I fell into a kind of strange grace.
And, oddly enough, I felt right at home there.
Shavawn M. Berry’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Huffington Post, elephant journal, Journey of the Heart: Women’s Spiritual Poetry, Olentangy Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Vagina – The Zine, Rebelle Society, The Cancer Poetry Project 2, Kinema Poetics, Kalliope, Poet Lore, Westview – A Journal of Western Oklahoma, Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Concho River Review, North Atlantic Review, Synapse, Living Buddhism, Blue Mountain Arts/SPS, and Poetry Seattle. Her technique essay on the dramatic monologue/persona poem is featured in a poetry database published in 2013 by Ebsco Publishing. In 1998, she received her MPW in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles where she specialized in Creative Nonfiction and Memoir.
Ms. Berry teaches writing at Arizona State University where she just completed a 2013 Lincoln Ethics Teaching Fellowship. You can follow her on Facebook or read more of her work on her blog. A portfolio featuring a selection of her essays, blog postings, and prose is available at Shavawnberry.contently.com.
Photo: Norwegian Anette