On a lovely day, when our family was driving from one place to another, we detoured though a state park. It was a good day for a hike, so we got out of the car and onto the trail. It began atop a meadowy ridge where we walked together until the trail turned downward. Not far into our descent, I made the unsettling discovery that my feet were moving faster than they should have been. Worse, I was accelerating. My horrified family looked on helplessly as I sped down the hill toward the forest below.
In an attempt to avert disaster, my son yelled “Mom, grab a tree!” Knowing myself to have poor aim, bad balance, and a bent toward klutziness, I thought, How am I going to manage that, and if I do, how will I keep from crushing my face when I crash into it? I followed his advice and got hold of a tree without damage to wrists or face, but only well enough to increase my peril by transforming it into a trajectory-changing, speed-increasing slingshot.
Gravity exerted itself, forcing me to the ground and rolling me – somehow backwards – down the hill. I somersaulted downward, thinking all the while how unlike this jarring plunge was from Buttercup’s tumble in the The Princess Bride. At long last, I stalled at the bottom of the hill where my panicked family found me, laughing and plucking debris from my hair.
Experience has taught me that every time my boot hits the trail there is potential for me to stumble. I keep my eyes peeled for rocks and roots that I so easily trip over and take cautious steps. My husband, the mountain goat, after years of watching me gingerly pick my way down rock-strewn mountain trails, tries regularly to convince me that gravity is my friend. He tells me that I need to stop fighting it and learn to use it to my advantage. I don’t understand that kind of friendship and prefer to fight it, just as I prefer going out on the trail to staying home, even knowing that it may be a struggle to complete the hike with my dignity intact.
Why, if I have any awareness of dignity, would I voluntarily tell this tale? Image. Consider the one that sits next to this post. There I sit, perched atop a formation in the HooDoos, decked out for a day of hiking: fleece for layering against volatile weather, hiking sandals for a day on the trail, and a boutique kerchief to guard against scalp sunburn. I dress like a hiker. I look a hiker. I am a hiker.
I am a hiker who occasionally falls. Sometimes spectacularly.
I don’t just fall on the trail. Sometimes I fall on the road that is my life. Equally spectacularly. As a wife, a mom, and a sojourner on the earth, the road provides endless opportunities for me to find myself at the bottom of a hill.
So now you know. Image doesn’t equal reality. Sometimes I am sitting somewhere glorious, looking like I belong on the trail and sometimes I’m in a heap at the bottom of a hill with debris in my hair and dirt in my teeth.
On the trail and in life the important things are the same: getting up and grace. Thank God for grace.