Lessons From The Falls

One of the hardest things watching my Rusty-Pup age has been to see him change from a vibrant young pup who loved to chase rabbits, tennis balls, and his canine friends for hours on end into a doddering old dog who stumbles and falls more frequently every day.  Despite my every effort to accomodate his increasing feebleness – portable steps for the car and ramps for the porch – I too often find myslef cringing as his little spaniel legs give way and he tumbles to the ground.  Yet, what I’ve also found is that even as he nears the end of his time here, this faithful companion who has helped me discover many life lessons throughout his sixteen years still has things to teach me. Observing his ever evolving attitude and reaction to his falls has challenged me to re-examine how I react to my own stumbles along life’s pathway.

Many months ago, when he initally began falling his immediate reaction was to begin flailing around in a desperate attempt to upright himself as quickly as possible.  This desperation seemed to arise from a combination of shock, fear, and shame. Most of the time he was more than capable of pulling himself back up on all four legs.  There were times, though, when he required a little help, a little push from me to help give him some leverage.  As he has aged those times of needing my assistance have become more the norm than the exception.  At the same time, a notable change has taken place in how he handles himself now after he falls.

For one, he has learned how to roll with the falls. He seems to know in an instant whether a particular stumble will result in a full tumble or just a minor trip-up.  When he realizes he is not going to recover he resolutely accepts his fate, and instead of fighting the inevitable he simply goes with it and accepts it with as much grace and ease as he can muster.  Second, once on the ground he no longer flails around trying to immediately get up. Instead, he takes a deep breath and appears to mentally assess his situation.  More often than not he does not even attempt to stand by himself, he has accepted that his little legs are just to weak to recover on their own anymore after such a shock.  So, he lies there patient and content with full faith and knowledge that I am nearby to give him the necessary assistance his predicament requires.  Working together, we get him back on his feet and once again moving toward whatever is his momentary goal.

Fortunately, I am not plagued with the frequent misfortunes of physical falls and tumbles. Less fortunately, I am prone to mental and/or emotional stumbles as I tread my way through life.  There have been a few major falls in my life that have been akin to falling into a large pit, requiring quite a bit of climbing and clawing to get myself back on solid ground with stable legs.  In addition, there have been countless minor ones that still trip me up but from which I find it easier to recover from.

Like Rusty, in the past I reacted to finding myself being down for the count with shock, fear, and even shame.  I too would flail around looking and hoping for the quick fix to bring me back to my feet as fast as possible.  As he has discovered, and I am discovering, this is not always the optimal strategy. It often accomplishes little and at times only aggravates and makes things worse.  The wiser course of action is to take a deep breath, assess where you are, and map out a plan to steadily get back on track. The shock is inevitable.  So too, in many cases, is the fear.  The shame, however, can and should be banished.  I have to remind myself I’m not the first, the last, or the only one to ever encounter such a mishap.  There is no shame in experiencing a malady that is ever present in and among the human collective.

Perhaps the most important lesson I can take from my canine friend and companion is to learn how to rely on others.  When he is able he handles it on his own.  Yet, he has learned to welcome the helping hand when it is necessary.  He allows me the privilege to love him enough to be there to help him at his time of need.  I prefer doing what I can on my own when possible.  That is not inherently a bad position to take at times.  We gain strength of mind and character when we attain some dreams and goals on our own.  Yet, there is also strength in being able to acknowledge when you need help from others.  We have to allow others the opportunity and the privilege to love us enough to help us through our own trials and times of need.