The house was dark, the morning too early for sunlight, my bags packed for a 6 a.m. flight. A loyal golden retriever lay in the shadows. He knew we were leaving, so instead of sleeping in his usual nook he planted himself squarely in the hallway.
And I tripped right over him. Down I went, so fast that my chin hit the floor before my hands could react and catch my fall. Hours later, as our plane touched down in Portland, OR, a large bruise had spread from my chin along my jawline into the wrinkles of my neck.
Thus began “the falling,” a time in my life when I frequently tripped and/or bumped into things.
It reached a crisis point on an icy cold morning in the early days of 2007. I awoke with an unusual stiffness in my lower back, and immediately upon rising felt a tightness that extended around my ribcage and into my thoracic spine. As an aging athlete, I tried to rally so shuffled into the kitchen to brew a cup of tea.
Then the strangest thing happened: I couldn’t move. What I mean to say is that my legs wouldn’t move. The muscles did not respond to the signal I gave them. The only thing to do was place the hot tea on the counter and let gravity pull me to the floor. Lying there in my fuzzy red bathrobe, I started to laugh, to cry, laugh, cry, laugh, cry. You know the panicked response, the one that takes over when you find yourself in an awkward position, truly scared but simultaneously feeling ridiculous and quite funny.
There I lay, on the concrete floor with ice raining down outside in record amounts (which for Texans can seem monumental in itself). I knew that Marq was still in the shower so couldn’t hear me even if I yelled. So all I could do was wait.
A few minutes later he stood over me, asked, “What are you doing on the floor?” He was accustomed to seeing me sprawled out on my yoga mat each morning so wasn’t sure why I was on the kitchen floor in my bathrobe. I cried out and tried to tell him I couldn’t move. This propelled him into motion. He quickly pushed my office chair into the kitchen, lifted me into it, then wheeled me to bed.
The short version of this story is that nine months later, after multiple MRIs, CAT scans, x-rays, and months of physical therapy, I regained enough strength to walk and swim for 30 minute intervals. The diagnosis ranged from MS to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, to a final diagnosis of transverse myelitis — an immune response gone haywire. During the next two years I experienced two or three modified versions of this, and now, eight years later, I am healthy, strong, and physically able to do most everything I want.
What I learned during these critical months in 2007 was that I had received a gift — the ability to heal. As my body betrayed me, I was forced to create a new normal. I worked hard, emotionally and physically, to accept my limitations. As a result I began to find joy in the simplest gestures of life — sitting on the porch, counting birds at the feeders, holding a warm cup of tea in my hands, walking the dog to retrieve the morning paper. At first this was all I could do.
Pema Chodron‘s wise advice helps me understand why this period of my life, this falling apart was necessary and good. She reminds us that “things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
Room for falling.
Blessings to you on this beautiful summer day,
Sources: Pema Chodron