Friday, March 22, 2019

Stumbling



Yesterday morning I rode the bus to school as usual, stepping off in our Fremont neighborhood into a mild, early spring morning. I smiled hello a woman reading a novel who I don't know, but who is usually there at the bus stop waiting for her own bus. We've recently started acknowledging one another after years of keeping our eyes down as I pass her there with her back to the blank windows of the Thai restaurant that wouldn't open until lunchtime.

Indeed, only the coffee shops were open this early, although there were plenty of us out and about on our way to our places of employment. None of us seemed to be in a hurry, which, I think, tends to be, by design, the natural state of people who like to be early for things. At least that's the case for me, I like the option to saunter, and that's what I was doing, head up and on a swivel, taking the world in as I passed along these blocks I walk nearly every day of my life, noticing that some of the trees are already in bloom, shaking my head about a paper box that was knocked down overnight by some vandal, even stopping for a moment to admire the newly refurbished signpost that designates this exact spot to be the Center of the Universe. As I waited for the crosswalk light to change, I let my body relax from the top of my head down to my toes, inhaling the spring air deeply.

Crossing the street in front of the 62 bus that stopped for the light with a hiss of compression brakes, I made a study of the sharp, dark line that the rooftops of the buildings made against the lightening sky. As I did, my foot caught on the uneven asphalt causing me to stumble. In fact, I nearly fell. I felt a flash of embarrassment, imagining how it must have looked to the bus driver who surely saw me. How could that have happened? I demanded of myself reproachfully. I cross this street all the time. I know perfectly well that the pavement is warped, that's part of the "charm" of Fremont. I walk here every day. How could I be so stupid. I don't want to be one of those old men who fall all the time . . . And so on, castigating myself the way one does, irritated at myself for not paying attention.

Later yesterday morning, I watched the children on the playground going about their self-selected activities. Every now and then one of them would stumble and fall because they were not paying attention to where they were placing their feet on the uneven ground. Their heads were up and on a swivel, taking the world in as they played in this place where they have been playing nearly every day since September. Witnessing it in this context, I suddenly understood: stumbling, even falling, is an inherent risk of paying attention to the world beyond where we place our feet. If we are to fully engage the world, to fully see the world, to fully live in the world, we are going to sometimes catch our feet on warped pavement, stumbling, even falling. The alternative is to go through life with our eyes fixed in front of us, on the ground, not nodding hello or lifting our noses into the spring air.

The next time I stumble, I'm going to try to remember that it's just evidence that I'm doing it right.


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