In the middle of January, on the only dangerous morning in a benevolent winter, I slipped on black ice, fell, and hit my head. I’m not sure how long I lay flat on my back, dazed by the speed of the fall, the impact. Then, because I was alone except for the dog, I got up. I got home.
The fact that I had a concussion was obvious. The length of recovery was not. I thought I’d have a headache for a day or two. I didn’t know I’d be dizzy and exhausted and unable to concentrate for months. I didn’t know about the ringing ears and shaky hands, the confusion, or the way that every sound became a clanging cymbal. I didn’t know I would be unable to read or write or think. And I didn’t know that falling down would be a means to falling through, a different sort of understanding.
For years, I’ve wished, vaguely, for a larger dose patience. I thought it might come in a flash, like a lottery windfall, a gift. A sudden transformation. Over the last several months, with a bruised and limping brain, I’ve learned that patience is never just bestowed. It is, instead, a striving, a lesson. A challenge.
It has been a tale of quirk and wonder, a fine little twist unseamed.
On the morning of the fall, I planned to homeschool my kids as usual, convinced that a head-bump was no obstacle to a multitasking mom. Instead, I slept all day — the actual prescription for a concussion is copious amounts of rest. The kids watched television, which is so unusual in our house that they kept coming in to tell me that the shows were still on. At one point, I heard Rainbow Girl teaching Boo Monkey her phonics. Really, mom had dropped the ball.
And I kept dropping it. I vacuumed when I should have been resting, though I told my husband that it was the OCD fairy — the one who cleans the houses of crazy ladies with concussions. At that point, my sense of humor was still intact. I tried to deal with emails, blog posts, promised revisions, even though the letters on the screen moved in strange, disturbing ways. They made my head ache, my stomach lurch, and eventually, I gave up. So did my sense of humor. Depression is another sideways slap of falling.
When patience came, it was less like a lottery than a snakebite, a slow, persistent venom. It was too foreign to be comfortable. It was no easy fit. But we rarely get to chose our revelations, either in their timing or their form. There is always a fine line between the meaningless and the meaningful, between a random accident and an act of grace. We chose our interpretations, that’s all. We chose the next step, the next card to play in the hand that we are dealt.
I couldn’t read, so I sat for hours, eyes closed, with audio books. I found solace in the lyricism of Stephanie Kallos’s Broken for You, in the intricate sorrow of Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the mythic adventure of Gaiman’s Anansi Boys, and the interwoven fables of Helprin’s Winter’s Tale. I learned how to listen, to find pockets of magic in unspooling language, without my eyes to anchor me.
I couldn’t write, so I observed. The light, the trees, the dog, my kids. I played board games in the middle of the afternoon, listened to piano practice, and let Boo Monkey cover my hair in clips and bows. I found quiet fields of wonder, where I thought there was a only a race.
I couldn’t homeschool the girls on my own anymore, or drive, or sometimes even stay awake, so I learned to ask for help. My husband’s honor students came everyday to read lessons in history and math, literature and science. The girls played at friends’ houses during doctors appointments and difficult afternoons. Lovely mamas drove my children to homeschool group, and theater week, and art class, and music. My brilliant critique partner, Patricia Caspers, guided me through revisions so that I wouldn’t miss a deadline. My brother and dad kept my spirits from sinking too low. And my husband, a wonder in himself, became two people in one and never complained or winced.
It has been two months since I fell, and I am still not good at waiting — but I am getting better. I look for small, incremental pacing, not windfalls or epiphanies. I take advantage of clearer moments where I can write or read, a little. I can’t drive, but I can teach again, slowly. I can take the dog for short walks. I have more tolerance for light and noise. I am still unsteady and exhausted, but I understand that I won’t always be like this. Patience still stings, but not as much.
There are no windfalls, but there are little gifts. My sense of humor creeps back, telling me that our laundry and dishes have never been so orderly, that I am a champion at sleep, if nothing else. I have learned that falling down sometimes leads to falling through — falling through my fears and reservations, my habits and my doubts. Falling through to quirk and wonder, the sharp turns that look like dead ends until I take another step, tilt my oh-so-imperfect head, and look again.
~ Photo credit: “Time as the sand slips through your fingers,” by daksel
I’ve missed conversing with folks on this blog. Now that I’m back, more or less, I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to. Please share one of the “little gifts” you’ve enjoyed recently.