The nurse wouldn’t even let me through the doors of pre-op until she had slapped a bright yellow bracelet on my arm proclaiming FALL RISK. Honestly, I didn’t know whether to be insulted or impressed that she knew me so well. I went with the latter.
If there are two better words in the English language to describe me, I haven’t yet found them.
I am, of course, a literal fall risk, even when I’m not on anesthesia. I am clumsy and uncoordinated. I fall down stairs. I fall off my bike. I trip on chair legs, sidewalks, even air. I prefer to think of it as a talent rather than a liability. At any given time my body is adorned with more bruises than jewelry and, usually, I have no idea where they came from.
But I am also a giant metaphorical fall risk. I love hard. I love without boundaries, without expectations, without limitations, without regard for my sanity. People, places, ideas, causes, organizations, basketball teams – it doesn’t matter. I love with reckless abandon.
That gets me in a lot of trouble. Because the harder you love, the farther you have to fall and the more frequently you do it.
Childhood is filled with falls. Clumsy first steps on chubby, hesitant legs. Spills from a two-wheeler onto the pavement resulting in skinned knees and hot tears. Inglorious landings from daring jumps off the jungle gym and slips from running through the house in socked feet.
We fall and we get up and we do it again.
We are born with a burning desire to take risks and a spirit of invincibility that makes us try again.
It is that spirit which makes it possible to try out for the team, to make new friends, to apply to college, to live on your own for the first time, to change careers, to make hard choices, to love someone. To open your heart and your soul knowing that you could fall. Knowing you could lose. Knowing you will make mistakes and have to utter the words I’m sorry. Hoping they will be received with grace. Knowing that sometimes they are not.
Because for every fall there are a hundred times you fly instead.
Somewhere between those clumsy first steps and adulthood, fall becomes a four letter word. Maybe it’s because we begin to understand the danger of risk. Or maybe it’s because somewhere in the murky waters of adolescence we begin to associate falling with rejection, with failure, with loss.
And the older you get, the harder the fall is. Like all of your muscles, your heart is not as flexible as it once was. We remember how much we can lose and our fear begins to drown out our hope.
That is not cowardice or complacency. That is just reality. It is adulting. You have a mortgage, a job, children, sick parents, tuition payments. And those things are worth protecting.
It is easier sometimes to to hide behind the veil of prudence. To tell ourselves that prophylactic measures to avoid a fall are the result of wisdom and experience and not cowardice.
To listen to the adult voice in our heads – the one that is harsh from a lifetime mending fissures – that says You shouldn’t. Shouldn’t be vulnerable. Shouldn’t go out on a limb. Shouldn’t be forgiving. Shouldn’t take a risk. You should remember what the fall feels like.
If we live our lives to avoid the fall before it happens, we aren’t really living. We are just biding time.
There’s another voice. The one that remembers the exhilaration of the ascent. The one that has always loved with reckless abandon. The one that remembers that for every hard fall, there were a hundred times when you flew.
That voice says Yes you should. And you’re abso-fucking-lutely going to do it again and again and again.
I’m not much for party favors. I ditched the paper work, the Vicodin, and the bed rest orders from the hospital. But I took home two things from my surgery.
The incision which will eventually fade into a scar will always remind me of the benefits of caution, of prophylactic measures, and of sensibility.
But that yellow bracelet will remind me that there are more times when caution is a hindrance. That the dangers of loving with reckless abandon are outweighed by the rewards. That the fall isn’t always a bad thing.
Because sometimes you have to bleed to know you’re alive. Sometimes you have to take a risk to know what you value.
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