Falling is all over the English language. Falling down on the job. Falling in love. Falling out of love. Falling for a scam.
The truth is, nobody falls on purpose. We jump on purpose. We hop, dive, and roll on purpose. But nobody says, “Now I’m going to fall down.”
The older we get, the more fragile our bodies are when they become objects hurtling through space. If we slip and break a leg or a hip or sustain a concussion, we go to the hospital for surgery. And then all hell can break loose. For a variety of reasons, some known and others not so much, it takes older folks longer to find their way out of the haze of the post-op period. And for a variety of reasons, some known and others, not so much, older adults die from falling and breaking a hip or a shoulder.
We’re just so vulnerable. On ice. On the beach. On surfaces, hard, medium, or soft. We’re in a perpetual state of war against gravity. Each and every one of us is a Leaning Tower of Pisa come alive, precariously perched on the surface of this globe.
Whenever we fall, regardless of age, we get so embarrassed. We apologize profusely for being clumsy, for not looking out for the cat curled on the floor, or for failing to notice the shoes by the door. We fall. And it’s as if we’ve done something terribly wrong, as if we’ve breached some ethical firewall. Which is crazy, because frankly, it’s a bit miraculous that we’re not constantly toppling over…
Falling is a natural response to gravity, a force with which we must reckon. We simply have no dominion over it. Think for a moment about the terminology used for launching rockets into space. We say we must “escape” gravity. We are hostages to gravity. We are Newton’s apple.
Christian theologians call the moment when Adam takes a big bite out of whatever fruit Eve plucked from the Tree of Knowledge, the Fall. Capital F. Pulled down by the gravity of sin, these theologians say that we are a ruined, pathetic, irredeemable bag of bones. The only way to recover from this state of sin is through baptism and/or accepting Jesus as the son of God whose death is the sacrifice that raises them up, defying the gravity of sin.
In Jewish theology, Adam and Eve’s sin is understood as a deadly sin. They knew better, yet they were drawn by the force of sin to do the worst thing they could possibly imagine. The rabbis don’t spend so much time criticizing Adam and Eve. They mostly sadly shake their heads and reiterate just how badly Adam and Eve messed up. The first man and woman ruined the possibility of human perfection and immortality.
The Adam and Eve narrative can be strangely reassuring. If the first man and woman failed, if they were drawn into the orbit of sin, if they were so imperfect, then we must acknowledge that we, too are imperfect. It’s never going to be perfect. We just have to try harder to set our own orbit around sin at a safer distance.
Sometimes we fall on our faces. Sometimes we fall in love. What a hopelessly romantic image: that love creates a force so strong and ineluctable that all we can do is give in. Sometimes we regret that fall and the resultant pain. Other times… not so much. But we must all surrender to the gravity of the heart.
When one Googles the phrase “learn to fall,” the number of hits is over 78 million. Many of those websites suggest:
- Stay Bent Over. Crouch down if you feel yourself losing your balance. You won’t have as far to fall. A crouch enables you to roll and protect yourself.
- Keep Arms & Knees Bent. Fall with bent elbows and bent knees. It shortens the distance and saves broken wrists and elbows.
- Land on Big Muscles. Land on your butt, the muscles of your back, or your thighs. Don’t catch yourself with your hands when you fall. Instead, roll and try to land on the meaty parts.
- Keep Falling. Relax your body rather than stiffening up. Roll up into a ball. Keep the rolling going. Spread the impact out. The more you roll with the fall, the safer.
- Protect Your Head. If you are falling forward, turn your head to the side. Roll to that side. Avoid a face plant. If you are falling backward, tuck your chin to your chest, roll, and try to land on your thighs and butt.
How can anyone think so fast while falling? How can we even remember these rules? Yes, it’s all logical. And gravity is a rational force; at least it seems to be logical. But how we fall is far from logical.
We all fall down. Gravity will always triumph. Finitude is assured. In the meantime, as rule #4 suggests: just keep rolling. “The more you roll with the fall, the safer.” The interesting part isn’t that we fall down; we all do. It’s how we get back up that ultimately defines us. It’s not always easy to get back up. And we often need help to do so. Until such time as the final fall comes around – and it will – keep rolling.