Learning to Fall

Kayaking on calmer waters
Kayaking on calmer waters

I braved another kayak adventure a couple evenings ago after work. The wind had been blustering all day, and there were whitecaps on the lake. Not the most ideal conditions for a newbie, but newbies gotta learn to ride with the swells and paddle in the currents. No better time to learn than the present.

High from my perfect kayak embarkment of my first voyage on Gryffyn, I deftly prepped him, launched him, set my paddle securely across him, leaned over into him, and…

…promptly tipped right over the opposite side into the lake.

Other than I landed in only 1.5′ of water (small mercies), I was assured that I only scraped my left leg and bruised my left butt check (rocky bottom where I was, no pun intended). Still sitting in the lake, I looked up to see if anyone saw me and realized that my line of vision led directly to my boss’ window at the Centre.

Had she seen me?

Yup. She had.

Oh well.

Instead of fretting over whether or not it was smart to go out on a choppy lake, I got back up again, slid into Gryff, gripped my paddle and pushed off. As expected, the water was nothing like my first voyage. The lake was loud and choppy; I was immediately off-balance. I quickly had to compensate for sudden direction changes, tilts and currents. I learned how to feel out when to paddle and when to ride the waves.

In the name of safety, I paddled back out to the little bay I explored my first time out and discovered the wind was much less gusty out that way. The waters were gentler and the lake was calmer. I paddled around the perimeter of the bay (lest I tip again, and need to make a swim to shore), and back. By the time I came around the point back towards the beachhead, the wind had all but subsided.

The first part of my journey was certainly all about concentration, and not meditation. My prayers were little more than: “PleaseGod, pleaseGod, pleaseGod, PleaseGod, pleaseGod, pleaseGod, PleaseGod, pleaseGod, pleaseGod, PleaseGod, pleaseGod, pleaseGod,PleaseGod, pleaseGod, pleaseGod, PleaseGod, pleaseGod, pleaseGod, PleaseGod, pleaseGod, pleaseGod, PleaseGod, pleaseGod, pleaseGod, PleaseGod, pleaseGod, pleaseGod”. But after managing to negotiate the rough waters, I had some time to relax.

It was then that I began to feel thankful for my tumble. I’m not someone who likes to fail at anything, or even admit to a fall being a good life lesson (not in the moment anyway). But in reality: learning to fall is one of the best life lessons we can all learn.

My family mocks me for the kinds of early memories I have (only a little), but the memories are there and (accurate or not), I cherish them. And as I paddled around, I remembered our little house in Berwyn, Alberta. Berwyn was/is a tiny spit of a village outside of Peace River. The first house we lived in backed onto a field; the second house was an amazing old house on Main Street that seemed to have a yard that went on forever.

It was while we were living in the first house — the one of the edge of town — that Dad taught me to ride a bike. I had a little yellow number and having my training wheels taken off was a big thing. I was growing up. If I could ride a two-wheeler by myself, I could do anything.

Except… it would REALLY hurt when I fell. And falling, to me, was inevitable. I was losing my supports! How did adults DO this stuff?!?

But Dad didn’t teach me out on the sidewalk — all concrete and hardness. Dad taught me out back by the field where it was all grass and softness. Granted this made peddling much harder, but what I DO remember was that falling was a lot easier. Because, true to my child’s intuition, I fell (many times) but I don’t ever remember sobbing with ripped open knees, torn clothes, or (*GASP!) blood.

I remember my Dad holding the back of my bike, wobbling it deliberately now and then, and then letting go. He knew what he was doing (I think). He knew cement might terrify his 5-year old daughter, just like I knew toppling over in the middle of the lake was worse than getting dunked at the shore.

Riding a bike means learning to brave concrete sidewalks and busy roadways. But when we’re just starting out, when we’re literally wiring our brains and bodies to trust our sense of balance located in our ears, peddling on grassy pathways is a pretty wise place to start. Falling is a natural part of learning to ride, so learning in a place where it is safe to fall is a great and grand idea.

Now this doesn’t mean I’ve learned to keep my balance in a lot of things. My friend and I were rollerblading Calgary’s bike paths one lunch hour, and I came down an incline, went over a set of railroad tracks and around a bend far too fast. In fact, I flew off the pathway and rammed into a loosely placed fence — the only barrier between me and the Bow River.

Meh, I’m still here. 😉

Anyway, I’m grateful for a Dad who taught me to ride a bike.

I’m grateful for a Dad who taught me to ride a bike in a soft place, knowing I would fall (and probably hoping I would).

I’m grateful for a Dad who dried my tears and still encouraged me to get back up and try again.

I’m grateful for a Dad who taught me that falling is okay, and that we actually do learn much from our tumbles.

Sometimes I fight with God over my tumbles. “Really, God? Did that HAVE to happen?”

I’m not the type of person who believes that there’s some sovereign or cosmic reason for everything, but I do believe that we develop and grow as people when we encounter turbulence. By turbulence, I mean the natural vicissitudes of life: spilling the paint in kindergarten, burning our fingers on hot soup, breaking up with friends, fighting with parents or teachers, hating school, learning communication in marriage, the workplace or church, and even losing loved ones.

I’m not talking about all out storms when atrocities like the massacre in Charleston or the violence of ISIS are deliberately chosen acts of evil. I don’t believe God makes those things happen, nor do I believe God wants them to happen to make us better people. I won’t presume to explain, then, why such evil exists. I simply believe that God walks with us, bleeds with us, and perhaps has the desire and ability to create good where evil grows rampant. Why this kind of evil must exist, sigh… some days I want God to explain Herself a little bit more.

But as for the natural currents and swells of life, I’m grateful for Dads who teach us balance and the tenacity to get back up again and again. We know how to bend a bit more, balance better here, and move side to side when things get a little bit rough. We’re better people for these lessons now ingrained into our muscle memories.

Thanks, Dad. 😀

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