Pride before a fall
Nicole Law reflects on the lessons of collapsing in the street.
A few days ago, I fell on the way to lunch. For the preceding few minutes I found myself walking shakily, losing focus until finally lunging forward onto the concrete. The biblical story of St Paul being thrown to the ground by a blinding light seemed to parallel my personal experience.
Prior to his conversion, St Paul identified as Saul, a Pharisee, expert in the Law and trained by the best teacher, who was responsible for the persecution of many Christians. In him, I saw pride and self-reliance – a firm belief that he was right and that what he was doing was the correct thing. The days after my fall, I wrestled hard with the meaning of this uncomfortable and, to some extent, embarrassing experience.
Sure, I had sustained bruises and scratches on my arms and legs and I had been to the doctor for a medical check-up. Yet the physical manifestations of the fall were not the thing which had the greatest impact on me. The act of falling itself involves coming down from a height, from a posture of walking to one where the person lies prostrate on the ground.
The fall, in retrospect, reminded me of the need for humility and acceptance of the help of others.
Immediately after the fall, a group of women came to my aid. They were on their way back to their office building for lunch and were clutching coffee cups. Without hesitation, they supported me and helped me to the side of the pavement. I had never met these kind people before, yet they responded to my needs. An elderly security guard wheeled out a wheelchair and bought me a sweet drink from a nearby convenience store. The kindness of strangers filled me with warmth, despite the throbbing pain and discomfort I was experiencing.
I am stubborn by nature, insistent that I will be able to tackle most of the challenges which arise through my own effort. This feeds into the desire to be productive or to prize the product over the process. Feeling the weakness in my body as I leaned against a glass shopfront was a timely reminder to me to lean on the strength of others around me too.
The momentary blindness I experienced, much like that of St Paul, was frightening and it shocked me. The temporary loss of awareness elicits a dependence and surrender of control over the body’s most basic functions. I tried to get up but fumbled, another desperate attempt at self-reliance…
Looking at the world from down below altered my perception – I was no longer looking straight ahead at the next objective or project. I had to slow down and painfully lift myself up, with the help of others.
In the days that followed, I sat alone in prayer and the initial anger and embarrassment faded away. The shame of having fallen was replaced by an openness to reflect on the purpose of this discomfort. Many of us wonder why we experience negative outcomes or difficult circumstances. I asked myself the same question. Yet as I reflected deeper on the ‘blindness’, I was led to the awareness that my foggy perspective was being replaced with a renewed ‘sight’.
Yes, the awkward conversations were inevitable as I explained to friends why I needed to recover in the week that followed. Yet there was a sense of calm that overcame me, even as I wrestled with the bodily pain and discomfort. I started to perceive even this less than ideal situation in a different light. Maybe falling down from the height of pride was what I really needed to see things anew and to allow my ‘blindness’ to turn to ‘sight’.
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