Falling Through

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. 

26 thoughts on “Falling Through

  1. Our symptoms may be different but in a way it feels as though our stories are the same. Having suffered with excruciating facial nerve pain that came on in June last year it turned my world upside down and patience has been a hard pill to swallow. The key is that we can’t do it alone, so glad you had so many wonderful people around you to help. Wishing you more and more wonderful gifts as your days continue to get better and brighter.

    • Kathryn,
      I’m so sorry to hear of your struggles. I hope you get a full recovery (soon!), and I wish you patience in the meantime, with lots of little gifts. Thanks for reading and sharing.

  2. Chelle and I often think/talk about you struggling with this injury/experience. When I saw this post and the slight uptick in tweets it gives me a positive feeling. Its my poor attempt at long distance diagnostics.

  3. I have felt so bad since you have not been able to do so many of the activities that you love and live to do! You have been a trooper through it all! As always, you have found a way to so eloquently and beautifully express what it has been like in words. And I know that writing this piece was physically difficult! But it was exquisitely written! Here’s to getting better and better each day–I’ll be by your side the whole way!

  4. Thank you Lisa for all you give. It is with happiness that we once again can “go wow” at your written words.
    Now go rest !!!

    Pat, you are a wonderful man, a super Dad, husband, teacher and person.
    It is a comfort to know you always have Lisa’s back!

  5. I’ve been thinking about you and wondering how you were doing — so I’m very glad to see this post. Your writing is as lovely as ever and as you say, I can see your sense of humor creeping back. As for gifts — patience is a good one (I could use more too) and your house is orderly (of that I’m also envious), but still — it’s nice to see you’re getting back to your old self again! As for my own small gifts… I’m finding joy in edting and rewriting, something I’ve never done before!

    • Julia, I’m so glad that your revisions are going well. I remember you told me that it wasn’t your favorite part of writing, or didn’t used to be. Here’s to you! Hope to see you this summer, for a long tea/coffee chat.

  6. Lisa – well you already know how glad I am to have you back – back here with your exquisite writing, touching our hearts and our funny bones; making us smile and nod our heads in understanding at your search for patience in an impossible situation. Here I am, raising high my water glass, in toast and tribute to you and your continued recovery!

    • Thanks Brenda! I’m looking forward to diving back into our Wing-Feather Fables adventure, starting next week. It was lovely to hear from you over the last weeks, keeping my spirits up. Cheers!

  7. You know well how icky this term has been for me, but I was reminded recently of the importance of the work that Pat and I and all our colleague-friends do. Within minutes of completing a grueling Diversity Day presentation, a student pulled me aside to come out of the closet to me. She wanted me to be the first faculty member to know because she felt that I had helped her to feel comfortable about who she is. Moments later, I checked my phone and found a message from one of my dancer graduates who was recently asked to audition for Boston Ballet’s Ballet II. Both of these were emotional moments for me and really highlighted that even the smallest of our choices and our actions can be important for others. These were small gifts that provided me a much needed moment of grace.

  8. Lisa, this is amazing, poetic. I am so sorry for your accident but grateful for this lovely text. We miss you terribly at book group. Return to us soon. Coffee?

  9. Your brain still may feel fuzzy, but this writing is anything but. Beautiful, emotional, full of revelation and acceptance. I hope to gain so much insight, without hitting my head on the ice though.

    • Heidi,
      Oh, lovely mama, thanks for all the help over the last many weeks. Couldn’t have made it without you.

  10. So glad to hear you are feeling better. I’ve missed your beautiful writing. It is also wonderful that you are able to see the gifts and the lessons this experience has given you. My mother in law used to tell me to slow down and listen to the subtle lessons the universe was offering. If not, I risked the universe “hitting me in the head with a 2 by 4”! Your experience is a good reminder to me of this. We probably all need to slow down and be more aware and grateful of all the beautiful small gifts around us.

    • Joan,
      I love that saying from your mother in law. It certainly describes the last several months in our house. Thank you!

  11. You are such a beautiful soul. Look at you full of gratitude for so much at such a hard time. I’ve been thinking about you and wondering you’re doing. So glad to hear you are “ok” though it’s obviously been hard. You’re on the mend though, right? I hope I hope I hope! So glad to your words here. They really are a blessing and YOU are one to all of us who look forward to reading what you have to say.

    • Thanks Nina. I am on the mend, but slowly — which is better than not at all! I’ve been thinking of you as well, and your series on habits. I’ve definitely been more aware of my own bad habits lately — especially those of fear and doubt. Ah, thank goodness for audio books to keep my mind on something other than myself — and to keep me on track for my book a week goals (another thanks to you!).

  12. Now I understand the gap between this brilliant piece and the last one of yours posted here months ago. To say the least, I feel for you in many ways. My own massive concussion was 56 years ago (I was five, hit by a car), so I don’t remember that trauma. But my recent accident on the escalator last 01 Dec and the broken leg (luckily no more) I took away from it turned my hectic routine life around. Yes, sleep (perchance to dream?) completely took over for two weeks. Learning to use crutches, to deal with strong pain and to ask for help were all part of a trial that called for much new patience and understanding. What you are so lucky to have in Pat I have in Marta … the greatest support and love possible. However, there are moments, even now, when we are on our own with the pain, the waiting and the counting of days or weeks before we will be “all better” again. Our bodies heal, but ever so slowly … fine, if that also means “carefully.” Just weeks ago I tried wearing a normal shoe again on my right foot, but the swelling nixed that experiment. Next week will see another attempt.
    All in all, I wish you thorough recovery as a reward for yor perseverance. God knows your family, friends and readers look forward to this with you. Thank you for this awesome view inside yourself …

  13. Michael,
    Thank you for such a lovely comment and for sharing your own trials of perseverance and patience. It’s amazing how quickly and easily the “hectic” can become routine, until something massive slows us down. I’m so sorry to hear about your accidents — the concussion long ago and the broken leg now. I hope the normal shoe fits very soon. I’ve been doing the same with writing, “trying it on” each day. Often, the words are too tight, the swelling too rough. So I put it aside for another trial, another day.
    More patience, bit by bit, word by word, shoe by shoe!

  14. Pingback: Wing-Feather Fable: Blue Gate | How to Feather an Empty Nest

  15. I can only imagine how hard its been to be patient..to allow your body to heal as it needs..and as it should. So glad that you’re slowly finding your way back home.

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