The kids wanted to walk down by the water, so I said I would accompany them. We were having a picnic along Lake Michigan and had finished eating, so they were ready to explore. We climbed down the rocks to walk along the shore, and at first the surface was relatively level. It was easy going, and I let myself get lost in my thoughts. Eventually, we came to some rocks that were rougher and more jagged. The kids paused, then said, “Let’s go on a little further.” I said, “OK,” and we continued.
I noticed a young couple sunbathing nearby. I was thinking about how it was nice to walk by the water, how grateful I am that at 46 I am still pretty physically active and able, that I am able to do things like this, when suddenly I felt my foot slide out from me. My feet skidded down the incline and I toppled over backward, my back slamming against the rock and my feet and legs slipping into the water. As I went down, my glasses flew up and off my face.
The young couple was instantly up and rushing over to me. “Are you OK?” The man reached out his hand to help me up as I assessed the state of my injuries. No cuts. No broken bones. A bruised back – likely. As he helped me up, I said, “I think I’m OK, I just lost my glasses.” The woman replied, “They’re right here – they almost ended up in the water.” I thanked them profusely and noticed the kids about 100 yards down the rocks – they hadn’t noticed my tumble.
Eventually, they circled back around and I let them know, “I fell.” “Oh, we thought we heard a man saying something to someone,” one of the kids said. As they walked and I limped back to our picnic blanket, I reflected on how this event would inform my decision-making in the future. Would I regard this as a warning that I’m not as physically able as I thought – that I should avoid such exertions going forward? Would I view it as a random accident that happened one time but most likely will not happen again? Would I take away that this activity is inherently dangerous and forbid the kids from walking on rocks in the future?
What’s more, I could view the outcome of this particular event as lucky or unlucky. Was I unlucky to have slipped on the rock in the first place? Or was I lucky that all I had was a bruised back, when I could have broken the cell phone in my pocket, lost my glasses, cracked my head, or broken a bone? And I thought about the small margins between all of those outcomes. Stepping one inch another direction could have helped me avoid the fall altogether, but stepping one inch the other direction could have resulted in a more serious injury.
And in the end, what this event reinforced for me is that as much as we want to control our safety and that of our families, we cannot. We are right to work towards some measure of security – I don’t believe in throwing all caution to the wind. But I know that at times I can go too far in trying to plan for every eventuality, to map out future events, to maintain a sense of control when in truth my control is limited. And I think we have that tendency as a society – to work at all costs for security, safety, and control when in fact we cannot control it all. Maybe if we loosen some of our tendency to control – not eliminate it, but loosen it – we could learn to live more in harmony with one another and with the world around us.
I hope that the next time we are at the lake that I am willing to walk down by the water. I don’t want fear to cut me off from others. I suspect I will be more careful – pay more attention to where I place my feet. And I hope that attention draws me more into connection with those with whom I am walking and with the world around me, rather than pushing me away from them or inside myself.
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