Of all the things in the world that get romanticized, falling down makes the top-ten list of most undeserving, in my view. Granted, it’s not the going down part, of course, so much as what happens afterward: like Cool Hand Luke after a baker’s dozen knuckle sandwiches, like Chumbawumba after an ill-advised mix of alcoholic beverages, like the aphoristic rider after ejection from atop the aphoristic horse, we rise up again. That sounds glorious and noble until you think about it a little and realize, well, what choice do we have? When you fall, if you are able to get up—if you are conscious and haven’t broken any bones necessary for verticality or something really heavy hasn’t fallen on top of you—you do. Lying there forever may be tempting but simply isn’t realistic.
There are of course less literal concepts of falling down that are probably more what people mean when they encourage everyone to get back up on their feet after a fall. But for the moment I want to address literal falling down, because I had to address it several times this past weekend—because I had done it several times. On a bit of a whim, I’d signed up for a 24-hour race on a 3-mile trail loop in northern Indiana. Sometimes acting on my whims means stopping at a new donut shop and sampling a glazed; other times I end up running in the woods all day. They’re whims, not smarts.
There’s a section of a trail K and I run on a lot that K calls “Revenge of the Trees.” This section is tangled with roots, making it very challenging to run sure-footedly. You turn my brothers and sisters into toilet paper? I make you face plant. Ha! say the trees. Luckily I’ve never tripped or fallen on this section, in part because I always know it’s coming and so prepare myself. The Indiana trail, however, I’d only ever run on once, years ago, and it seemed like the trees knew it. There I was, sailing along, thinking how much I love running, thinking how beautiful the autumnal woods are, thinking how lucky I am to be alive and all sorts of other sentimental drivel, so I suppose it served me right that next thing I knew a root had grabbed my foot and sent me bouncing across the trail on my ribcage.
Three times they got me. Each time, I got up. Again, what choice did I have? If I stayed there, I’d be blocking the path. Other runners might trip over me. Eventually I’d be covered in dead leaves. Carnivores would sniff me out and eat me. This was unappealing. So I rose and kept going. This did not make me feel heroic. If anything, after the third time, I felt the sting of tears in my eyes, like I was a little kid trying and failing at roller skating while everyone else zipped effortlessly away. Why did I keep doing this? A pointless question; I did keep doing it. What I needed to do was to figure how to be a little less bad at it.
I slowed down. I looked out for anything that might be a trip-hazard. I walked through the rootiest sections, and when it got dark I walked the whole thing. This was meant each subsequent loop took approximately forever to get through, but I did not in fact fall again. This did not make me feel heroic either, but heroism may very well be another concept that has been romanticized to the point of meaningless. I didn’t conquer anything out there. No lives were saved. The best that could be said was I kept moving longer and farther than I’d ever done before, earning me a modest distance PR and a lot of bruises. Two days later it kind of looks like someone printed an atlas on my legs with the continents in blue. Look, on my left kneecap: it’s Australia!
Earlier in this post I mentioned those less literal forms of falling. I’ve had those too. There were times during those falls I didn’t want to get up, one time in particular I did my very best not to. I got up anyway. It wasn’t heroic of me, nor was it cowardly of me to have tried to stay down. I got up because as near as I can figure out, it’s what we tend to do in these situations. What I did after that—well, that’s still happening right now. I’m still going, trying to figure this stuff out, and yes, trying to keep from falling again, but perhaps a little better able to deal with it when I do.