Falling Up Face First: What I Learned From Being Pushed Down By G!d
“I can’t get any lower/ Still I feel I’m sinking.”
“But in time nothing can be without becoming.”
~ Ursula K. Le Guin
“Alas, after a certain age every man is responsible for his own face.”
~ Albert Camus
I’m looking at the underside of my night table. How long have I been here? The cool tile is nice on my throbbing face. Under the night table it’s dark but I can see it’s dusty under there. Bunches of fur, too. I need to vacuum.
Look! Under the bed! My favorite Vans with the checkered laces!
My head is so loud. But I haven’t said a thing.
Why is my face throbbing?
Out of nowhere I know that I fell down. Just now. I fell down. On my face.
This is a great shock because I never fall. I’ve learned how to fall. More precisely, over many years of martial arts training I’ve learned techniques of how to breakfall, allowing specific parts of my body to take the impact of the fall away from other more vital parts of my body, like my back or head. Obviously, it’s not done with the face.
“I fell?” I move my hands on the cool ceramic tile to push myself up. “I fell?”
Marni is kneeling at my side. “Oh my God. Okay. OhmyGod, ohmyGod. David?”
“You’re bleeding. You’re really bleeding.”
Chana is now behind her. And Noah too. Someone is told to get ice. I hear Marni struggling to maintain a controlled tone.
I push myself to a sitting position. My eyes don’t focus clearly.
“What? David, what?”
“My new glasses.” I pick up the lonely arm huddled in a gaggle of dog hair by the wall. The rest of the frame leans kickstand-crooked nearer to my leg. Marni picks them up. The lenses are intact. Someone hands me a cold wet towel wrapped around ice.
“Hold this here, on the side like this. And on your nose. Oh, David.”
I hold the towel to my face. I’m waiting for the throbbing to turn into pain.
But nothing hurts, yet.
Chana is crying. She says over and over, “He doesn’t fall. He doesn’t fall.”
Noah attempts to calm her and Marni to no avail.
Soon, we move from the bedroom to the living room couch. Marni and Noah inspect my face. We decide I need to go to the hospital. Chana is trying to control her crying. Shabbos candles twitter from the draft of air conditioner. The dining room chairs are all pushed away from the table.
Marni drives me to the Emergency Room. Wounds cleaned, CAT scanned, x-rayed, pills, all good, go home. A bang up job. Nothing broken, nothing loosened, nothing lost but time and pride.
The whole time we’re trying to figure out what happened.
We’d been finishing our meal, nibbling on pareve chocolate chip cookies. Something said about Shabbos HaGadol. Something about transforming evil into good, the firstborn turning against pharaoh. Something someone said caused me to laugh, which caused me to catch a crumb in my throat, which caused me to laugh and cough and then to have difficulty catching my breath. I stumbled up and through the door way from the dining room to our bedroom. I raised my hands to try and catch my breath. . . Throbbing face on cool ceramic tile.
We wonder if I lost my footing on the dog’s blanket left dangerously in the middle of the floor, a slip that took my feet out from under me too fast for me to react.
We wonder if I lost my breath and couldn’t catch it and passed out there flat to the tile.
We figure I hit the bridge of my nose and right eyebrow on the edge of the night table on the way to slamming the left side of my face and forehead onto the tiles.
What a tumble. What a slip. What a fall.
We stand at the whim of Gd.
I am frantic with the notion that there must be a why. This is no random fall.
There must be a reason. Does this reason have nothing to do with either losing my breath and passing out, falling face first to the tile, or slipping on a hairy dog blanket face first to the tile?
Nothing is random. Nothing happens by chance.
I’m a romantic about Gd. I believe Gd freaking cares what I’m doing.
And about what I’m not doing.
I didn’t lose an eye. I didn’t break my nose or my jaw.
My face is hamburger. But nothing at all hurts.
Except my pride. I fell? How could I fall? I don’t fall.
But the truth of it is so blatant, my shame takes a back seat to awe.
This could have been so much worse. How precarious our standing can be.
Did my kids need to see me vulnerable? Did their world need to be rocked like that?
But I’m okay. They’re okay. We’re okay. Just bruised, scratched, cut.
I stop bleeding. I keep breathing.
The pain sets in.
I walk as if on a beam. Every step toe to heel.
My neck and upper back knotted and pinched. Numbness electrifies down my left arm to my elbow. No bruise or mark there. But my face.
I am obsessed. Why did this happen?
Shabbos HaGadol. Transformation. Tie the lamb to the bedpost. Know your enemy and throw him the finger. Gd said so. Sort of.
Every look in the mirror forces me to think for minutes at a time with the clarity the fall stole completely for mere seconds. Coming out of the fog, the dirt was the first thing I saw.
The litany of all my secret confessions to Gd passes through my lips. I am under the trees.
Oh, Gd, You know I have not been making time to learn. You know I have not been making it to minyan. You know the words in the siddur are often said by rote. Oh, Gd, You know all of my thoughts, purposeful or otherwise, inconsequential, negative, evil, or otherwise. You know all I’ve said or not said. You know all I’ve intended, all I’ve done, and all I’ve not done.
Oh, Gd, inspire me to grow.
I am immediately angry with myself. Who are you to think you deserve such attention?
A friend of Marni’s just lost her father. Ahava Emuna starts her third round of chemo. A list too long can go on and on.
But how else is anything possible? I personally do not assign meaning to the happenstances of others’ lives. I simply give them love or friendship or support or private sympathy. I try to empathize and I hang my head low with theirs and then go on with my life.
But then I fall like this. Right before Pesach. The time of our redemption. The time of breaking bonds and constraints. A time fraught with the framework of having to go down before rising up.
Days pass. The wounds begin to heal, dissipate.
One day I look at my son and I ask Gd to hug him, to hold him tightly, to inspire him, to light him.
One day I look at my daughter and I cry asking Gd to hug her, to hold her, to sing to her, to hear her sing.
One day I look at my wife and I beg Gd for rest for her from her anxieties and I thank Gd for keeping us alive.
These are loud in my head.
And I say them aloud. Under the trees. For the cardinals and squirrels to hear. For the wind to carry on the clouds in the blue. I pray them aloud to Gd.
I acknowledge my weaknesses and make no false promises.
I thank Gd for the mercy – because that’s what this all must be – for the mercy of letting be. And for sometimes pushing me.
Anything can happen at any time. If I’m going to try and give meaning to everything I do, I also need to give meaning to everything that happens.
When I fell, something clicked. Something ancient. Something new, too. The embracing of the choice to see things that happen as meaningful, as a reality transcending the ordinary, the coincidence, the happenstance.
More real than the shock and disbelief, the fall opened my eyes and my mind and my heart anew. I will never know why. The pain, though, the pain makes me feel so alive with inquisition.
I wondered. About the precariousness of life. About being vulnerable. About the possibility that this fall could have been worse. About how if a person had done this to me, I would be coming after him. So why accept it from Gd?
No one knows me better than me. And Gd. Did I need to fall for myself, or for my children to have seen me? Is that not cruel? Gd, Dude, can You tone it down?
Meanwhile, barrel bombs destroy lives in Syria, terrorists threaten in Jerusalem, malaria spreads in Africa and Asia, and so on. And so on. How can I think of myself in these times? I made it. Move on.
I wonder at it all.
And the wondering gives me strength that, yes, no matter how separate and low I feel in my connection to the omnipotence of Gd due only to my own negligence and misdeeds, I am connected nonetheless. Through thought. Through speech and prayer. And, I”YH, through action.
Ultimately, everything is balanced precariously on our own perception.
Nothing is real. Everything is real.
No one knows why I fell. But the hard, cool tile on my throbbing face was real. The wounds real. The meaning I choose to give it real.