all of the selves we Have ever been
I texted a friend,
“Well, it’s official. I’m old. I’ve had ‘the fall.’”
It happened on a Saturday morning in front of a men’s clothing store. It was an unseasonably warm Saturday in winter. The sidewalk was illuminated by bright sunshine. I didn’t think to look for ice, but as I took a few steps out of the door, my feet went straight out in front of me. Thankfully, I landed on my well-cushioned bottom and somehow managed to strain my upper body forward in a modified crunch/sit-up protecting the back of my head from crashing to the pavement. The full force of the fall was absorbed by my left hand and arm, my dominant side.
I sat on the sidewalk for a moment. A woman was getting out of her car and saw me fall. She kindly offered to help me up. I sat on the cold, wet sidewalk for a moment to collect myself, and then I walked on my knees to the wall and held on as I lifted myself to standing. Badly shaken, I went back inside the store to report the fall and to encourage assistance for an older gentleman using a cane who had just entered the store.
The shopkeeper was kind and concerned. She wanted to call the emergency squad which I did not feel was necessary. She took my contact information and offered me an ice pack for my scraped and reddened hand. I sat for a few minutes on a stool next to the cash register, and then I drove myself home. My son came by and I described the fall to him. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if my neck was hurting by morning. Sure enough, the front of my neck was stiff and sore by the time I went to bed, but I was grateful that my neck had the strength to hold my head and protect it during the fall.
Over lunch a few days later, I told a friend and fellow social worker about the incident. I expressed much surprise by how badly shaken I felt for the next couple of days following the fall. “Trauma,” she said. “Falls are a kind of trauma.” Trauma. Hmmm.
As a social worker and therapist I have come to know people who have survived the atrocities of war, survived the Bataan death march, the Holocaust and the tyranny of Stalin. I’ve met children disfigured by a lifetime of abuse. Myself, I have survived a life-threatening medical emergency that literally took me to the other side. I use the word “trauma” carefully. And yet, I did feel traumatized by this relatively minor event. It happened so quickly, I didn’t see it coming nor did I see myself falling, but the event rattled all of my senses. More, it left me with a changed view of myself. The gal who always feels youthful and strong on the inside seemed to disappear in the nanosecond that it took for my bottom to hit the sidewalk. I was changed.
A friend tries to reassure me that anyone at any age could have slipped and fallen that day. After all, it was icy. True, but it means something different to a person of a certain age.
Perhaps youth and older age are not separated by decades. The divide may be as narrow as one thin icy line on the sidewalk.