It was one of those rare winter days we are granted in North Dakota which is in the low 30's and calm. It is the kind of weather perfect for sledding and snowballs, and the hill in the yard was calling the children's names.
We all headed outside, and as I tended to Bill, our goat with attachment issues, the kids shot down the hill on their sleds. Their squeals and screams filled the air as their plastic luges careened off shrubs and dirt piles. At one point, my daughter took a World Class Wipe-Out, crashing into some bushes, the sled continuing to skitter down the hill without her. I paused, heard no tears, only the giggling of her brothers and the crumbling of her pride, and surmised she was fine. I watched her sulk away to a row of hedges, I assumed to lick her wounds. Her crash and burn reminded me of something Anne Lamott wrote about, when her friend taught her the valuable lesson of learning how to fall on the ski slopes. I needed my daughter to not quit just because of a spill so I went to talk to her, only to discovered she had not been sulking but was quietly creating an arsenal of snowballs which she unloaded on me when I went to speak with her.
After the barrage had ceased, I told her that if she never learned to crash and burn or wipe out magnificently, she would miss out on so much in life. It was the same thing when I figure skated. If you never learned how to fall, you would never be able to try to jump. In life it is the same thing. I wish I would have learned to fall earlier in my life because God knows I've had some wipe-outs.
To me, it is all a matter of physics. To feel extreme joy, you need to be able to sit and feel complete defeat and heartbreak. In order to know someone fully, you need to first know yourself. In order to feel like you are flying, you need to be willing to crash and burn. As Newton taught us, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Life is supposed to be in a pendulum action, but I think we sometimes get stuck on one side. Feeling pain, or sadness is feared and so we do everything in our power to not feel it, or avoid it, and in turn we never really know what true happiness can feel like. Or we get comfortable in the pain and misery, and thus self sabotage ourselves in order to remain in the suck because joy would be so unfamiliar and frightening.
We are meant to fall, and we are going to fall, so ultimately the objective is to fall with grace. I know many of my falls in my 20's looked like this: "Look at me! I'm falling! Do you see I'm falling? Hey! I'm falling. I fell. Did I tell you I fell?" That is not graceful. In fact it was probably pretty annoying. Falling with grace looks a lot like that old lady in that really bad commercial that yells, "I've fallen and I can't get up." It is learning to identify when you have taken a big enough spill that you need to reach out to those you love, and who love you, and ask for a hand.
It is the ability to sit amongst the debris and reconsider going down that icy hill on roller skates, with a tail wind from behind and a strong dog on a leash pulling in the front. It is the reflection of the warnings from those who know and love you cautioning you may bite it big. It is the growth that comes from standing back up after your head and heart are clear and the little birds have stopped circling you.
The reality is learning to fall requires us to surrender. Surrender to gravity and to the unknown. And we fight it because, well, we are humans with control issues. In the end the goal really is just to get up one more time than you fall.