Falling Down

I SUPPOSE THERE ARE WORSE THINGS that could happen than falling down in the Whole Foods parking lot while returning to your car with a bag of groceries, but at 5:30 last evening, I couldn't think of one.

I was wearing a wrap dress and a pair of chunky-heeled sandals. I don't usually wear heels, but these were comfortable and sturdy Dansko, with a thick square heel on the bottom and a substantial leather upper. I only describe the shoes in detail because there was no other reason why I would have taken a tumble. The parking lot had been recently paved, it was dry, and I didn't notice any pebbles or other obstacles. Nevertheless, I managed to fall off of my shoes in spectacular fashion, just a few steps from my car.

This wasn't my first fall. A couple of years ago, I went down while walking down a stationary Metro escalator. I was carrying a wheeled briefcase and it caught on a step, throwing me off balance. I was lucky that the escalator wasn't moving at the time and even luckier that I was just a few steps from the bottom of a short escalator (instead of at the top of one of the really long ones). I jumped up, my lip bleeding, trying to act like I totally meant to do that (what? you don't fall on purpose?), lest anyone nearby become concerned or feel obligated to come to my aid. Then a train entered the station, so I quickly gathered my things and hurried to catch it. Because that's what you do. When I got home, I threw the shoes I was wearing in the trash. I blamed the shoes.

As you're falling, time stands still, and your brain issues a series of vivid thoughts:

Oh no not here please no oh shit

Please don't let me break a bone

Sure glad I didn't buy those eggs

I hope no one sees me

This is going to hurt

Try to act natural

Whatever you do don't cry

I landed  - OOOF – with my left knee taking the main impact and my left arm breaking the fall. I immediately scrambled to my feet. In that moment, it made sense to me to act as if I'd done it on purpose. The worst possible thing would be for some stranger to have to decide whether they should come rushing over to help me. Even worse if it was someone I know. Quelle Embarrassment.  I opened the trunk – nothing to see here, folks! – and placed my grocery bag in it. Then I realized my plastic milk bottle was dented, so I wrapped it in a plastic bag in case it should leak. 

Finally, I got into the car and looked at my knee. It was scraped but not bloody, and it would bruise, but it was fine. Phew. Then I realized there was a woman sitting in the car next to me, pecking at her iPhone. Either she missed the spectacle, or decided to act as if she had. I was equal parts grateful that she didn't add to the scene and insulted that she didn't think enough of her fellow human to at least roll down her window and ask if I was OK.

I didn't throw away those shoes – they're still pretty new – but I did feel that same anger towards them.

The part of this that puzzles me is that feeling of not wanting anyone to go to any bother. I would pretty much rather die than have anyone go out of their way to help me. I'm not good at being on the receiving end of kindness. I'm trying to get better, but it makes me a little… uncomfortable. 

I remember reading a story written by a friend, of how she was at a party and realized she was choking, actually choking, and rather than inconvenience anyone with her little problem, she quietly went into a hallway and gave herself the Heimlich maneuver. Fortunately, it worked. She was relieved she didn't have to embarrass herself in front of everyone.

Late last evening, I was reminded that there is something worse than falling in a parking lot. A dear friend just received a cancer diagnosis. With that dose of perspective, I started thinking about what I could do to help her. Because I'd always rather be on the giving end of the equation.

This morning, I'm sore, like I was in a little car accident or something. My knee stings but is fine. And I'm wearing flat shoes.





It’s important to pay attention to the people you encounter, because sometimes, a messenger will find you in the most unlikely places. This is the story of one such chance meeting that occurred today in Central PA. 

I had just listened to a new podcast called Grapple, which “gives voice to people living and working in distressed communities.” Today, on a road trip, we found ourselves in Mahanoy City, the first town profiled in the podcast. 

Mahanoy City, PA

Mahanoy City. Photo credit Steven D. Martin.

We went into Rite-Aid to buy some allergy medicine and a soda. As we approached the check-out, a diminutive older woman was chatting with the clerk. She noticed we were waiting behind her and apologized. “No problem,” I replied.

She finished her transaction, turned around and looked up at us and said, “You’re not from Mahanoy City, are you?” We replied no, that we were passing through. “Oh,” she said, “How nice that you stopped here!” Then, as if she knew we’d heard the podcast, she added, “This used to be such a beautiful town!” We assured her we thought it was still lovely.

I asked our new friend what her name was. “I’m Nellie,” she said, and her smile lit up her whole face. 

“I’m Meg, and this is Steve,” I replied. “Steve!” she repeated. And then, as if his name jogged a memory, she told us that her parents were immigrants from Czechoslovakia. Steve said he had learned a few phrases in Croatian, which is similar to Czech. “Dobro vece!” he said, and Nellie’s eyes twinkled even more as she translated and then returned his greetings. She said she remembered some of the language from when she was a child.

Nellie was engaging. As she talked, she would reach for our hands, touching them as if we were old friends, to emphasize her points. She told us that she was the last living of ten siblings. Her mother had had a stroke when she (her mother) was young, and Nellie had to care for some of her younger siblings. She talked about how young people have to leave the area to find work.

Nellie continued, “I’m 94 years old, and I just moved into the high-rise.” I asked if she liked living there. She said that she did, but that she had lived in her house for 67 years, so it was very different. “I’m a widow,” she added, answering a question neither of us had asked, and she remarked that she’d never had children, almost as an afterthought (though I’d have loved to hear her story).

Then, Nellie said that all she has left is her memories. “It’s important to make memories while you’re younger because eventually that’s all you’re left with.”

“That’s what we’re trying to do this weekend,” I said, and Nellie smiled at us some more.

We finally said we had to be on our way and bid Nellie farewell, thanking her for talking with us.

After we got into the car, Steve said, “She was an angel.” It felt as if she had come from another time and place to tell us what we needed to hear, at that exact moment. I had been thinking the same thing:  Our encounter with Nellie was meant to happen. And in addition to her message, she gave us one more memory to treasure.


Sergio’s baby bird

I attended a three-day training session last week at a DC-area hotel. Our meals were served in the dining room of the facility’s soaring, sunny atrium. As I ate lunch there the first day, I heard birds chirping and thought perhaps the hotel piped in sound effects to make the atrium feel more like outdoors. But then I noticed two little birds hopping along on the floor, presumably trapped inside the atrium. They didn’t seem to be suffering; in fact, I’m pretty sure they felt like they’d somehow hit the bird jackpot.

As I sat there watching the birds the banquet manager came over and asked if I’d like for him to bring me dessert. I declined. Then I gestured to the nearby birds and made some remark about them to him.

His name tag identified him as Sergio, and he responded to my observation by enthusiastically sharing this about himself:

Baby cardinalSeveral weeks ago, Sergio rescued a baby bird from outside his home, apparently abandoned by its mother. It was, he determined, a baby cardinal. Sergio told me that he looked up how to make baby bird food (the process features turning worms into a baby food-like puree and administering it through a syringe).

Sergio then told me how the bird likes to sit on his knee when he’s watching TV, and hops up onto his shoulder, nestles in tight and falls asleep. When he transfers it back to the heated box he prepared for it, it cries for him, and he relents and holds it some more. The bird, he thinks, seems to like him. And he knows the bird now depends upon him.

His eyes twinkled as he talked about his new “pet.” I asked if he had kids, and he replied, “No, no,” then he pulled out his iPhone and proudly showed me photos of his baby bird, as a proud parent or grandparent might.

He said, in my country, I did a lot with animals. I couldn’t understand him completely, but I gathered that in Mexico he cared for animals and loved it very much.

I asked Sergio what he was going to do with the bird. He said, he’s afraid to return it to nature because he has been in the house for so long, and it might not be able to survive. In fact, on days when he works a long shift, Sergio has been bringing the bird along with him and leaving it in his car and going out several times to check on him and feed him.

I asked if he’d named the bird yet. Sergio said no, because I don’t yet know if it’s a boy or a girl. I said, perhaps something gender-neutral, such as Pat or Chris? He laughed and said, perhaps.

I was charmed by Sergio’s story and his genuine enthusiasm for his rescue project. And now whenever I see a baby bird, I will remember him, and remind myself that sometimes, strangers have the most interesting things to share, if only you engage them and listen.