When your world collapses

I read a post recently by fellow blogger Emily Kaye Lazzaro about falling on her face in public, and getting up and keeping going because that’s what you do when you’re an adult.  What good would it do to sit there and cry?

Reading her story put me in the mindset of wondering about what people do when their world collapses – both in small ways, like falling on your face in public, and huge ways, like when the person you love decides they don’t love you back.  Cry?  Throw things?  Run away? How we deal with catastrophe can say a lot about who we are as people.

When I was in college I worked for the school newspaper.  It was very stressful.  In fact, after playing A-10 basketball, I think it was the most stressful extra-curricular activity offered.  By the time I was in the spring of my sophomore year I was the editor of the news section, which was far and above the most stressed-out section of the paper because we were always working on a deadline.  We were always having a catastrophe.

Right around the same time I was learning to lead this section there was a day when I happened to be walking across campus when the cross country team ran by.  I watched them follow the curve of the baseball field, turn up onto the dyke that separated the field from the campus buildings, and take a hard right off into the woods.  Curious, I followed them at great distance.  The path they took was not visible from the road below but very clear from the top of the dyke.  I set off down this path myself, discovering a long, looping network of trails into the woods. I explored these trails for the rest of my college years, learning every loop, every off-road, the path to the quarry, the bridge to the Alleghany River. The Alleghany River is one of the slowest, calmest rivers I have ever seen.  In those college days the surface was always still like glass, and I remember clearly the first day I was tempted to break that glass with a big rock I found on the path.  After that, throwing rocks at the river became a meditative process, a stress relief from the college world and the school newspaper.  I took other people to the river, too, to throw rocks.  You know that scene in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes when the old drunk guy can’t eat because he’s shaking so bad?  Idgie takes him out back and hands him a bottle of whiskey.  And it doesn’t solve the problem – no way.  But it feels better for a while, and sometimes that’s all you need to buy the time to find a better answer.

There’s a quote from Hemingway:

“We are all broken by life.  But those who survive are strongest in the mended places.”

I would like to think he’s right.  As we grow from youth to adulthood we become stronger. We learn not to cry when we fall down.  We learn to cope with stress and pain.  We learn to find ways to lean on people and on the fabric of the world itself for the buoyancy that it offers.  And whenever I’m back in upstate New York, I throw rocks at the Alleghany River, just for good measure.

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