Impatient! Methodically, Dave is eating breakfast in his bathrobe and reading the paper. A Taurus, he doesn’t like to be pushed, nor do I like myself when I am being pushy. He still needs to shower, shave, and get dressed. I know our plan to work together in the garden today will happen eventually, but I’m ready now.
With resolve I decide to begin alone. This summer we bought a 3-legged, 10-foot pruning ladder that is still by the apricot tree in the backyard. Its aluminum structure is light, and I am able to balance and carry it easily to the dogwood tree that is growing into the house next to the driveway. For weeks now, I have eyed this tree and am eager to cut one branch at a time to shape it and move it away from the roof.
I prop the ladder’s long front leg as close to the house as it will easily go, climb to the highest rung considered safe—about 5 feet off the ground—and clip what I can reach. A couple of branches come down. Only a beginning as I’m not close enough to reach the branches that are growing into the house. They really should come off first so I can see how to shape the tree afterwards.
Since it’s difficult to get the ladder close enough, in a bold move, I stretch the long front leg over the step and onto a concrete ledge about 3 inches above the ground. It looks secure. I move it and put weight on it to be sure. It’ll work. If it were to slip, it would move forward just a little, and I would move forward with it. I climb the ladder.
Again at the top step that is considered safe, I stretch as high as I can. With each hand holding one side of the lopers, I reach for the branch. All at once, the ladder jumps. It must have. It is no longer under my feet, and I am falling. There is no time to plan and no time to panic. A distant memory of a friend’s husband who broke his neck when he fell off a ladder comes to mind. I am Alice falling down the rabbit hole not knowing how my entire world might be different when I land. Flat, my back hits the driveway first, hard, unforgiving concrete. My head hits next. I call for Dave several times, but he doesn’t seem to hear me.
Slow. Slowly, I turn to my side and lay there. I can move. Grateful. I lay there for a few minutes until Dave rushes, concerned. “Are you all right?” I don’t know. I lay there longer. After a while I move my arm and am surprised that my hand is injured. Onto my knees and then my feet. My foot is sprained.
As I fell, without thinking, my left foot and right hand reached out behind me to protect my body and head, which would be the least likely to heal. Instincts that had saved my ancestors, which I have rarely if ever needed in this lifetime, engaged taking the first impact before my back landed, my head hitting last.
Dave took me to Urgent Care where I repeatedly told the story of my foolishness. My hand and foot were bandaged; the CT scan was negative. I was lucky.
Sometimes, I think of God’s grace and miracles. A friend told me of someone who fell off a step-stool and is now in a wheelchair. That surely could have been me. I struggle to understand.
What I do understand is that life is a vulnerable gift and that all things I treasure, including life itself, can disappear in a moment. I no longer take for granted that I am able to walk, to move, or to feel my body. I am grateful to be able to climb the steps in my home, which I would surely have lost had I lost mobility. I am grateful that I still practice in my office with its three flights of stairs and that I am able to continue the work I love as a therapist. I am grateful for Dave, and how he drove me to doctor’s appointments and that his concern for me was bigger than his annoyance at how, in my own stubbornness, I put myself and our lives together at risk. I am grateful for friends and family and that I can join them at my daughter’s house for Thanksgiving rather than for them to visit me in a nursing home or hospital. I am grateful that many things that sometimes worry me now seem less relevant and that waking up every day is itself a gift.
I still don’t understand why I was able to walk away, when someone else didn’t. Maybe the answer is as simple as it wasn’t my time; it wasn’t my lesson to learn. Or perhaps, I simply don’t know, the illusive bigger picture of life seeming foggy and unclear. What I do know is that I want to not forget this moment. I want to move more carefully in the world, to be more aware, and to never never forget this greater sense of gratitude.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.