FACE IT: The Fear of the Fall

Paul Newman (AKA Butch Cassidy) probably said it best, as he looked down from that mountainous ledge, to the roaring rapids below. When Sundance confessed he could not swim, Butch responded, "The fall will probably kill you!"

Think about it: How many times a day do you hear someone speak of their fear of falling? My friend Katherine said, at her writers group this week, half the participants were sharing stories not of editing or publishing but of physically tripping or slipping and ending up on the ground. There is good reason for the fear: I have heard grisly statistics regarding how people over a certain age can almost time their demise to two years after a particularly bad slip or slide. My mother's came exactly in that time frame, after she missed a step. It truly was the beginning of the end.

Everyone I know is suddenly obsessed, and clinging a tad more tightly to the railings in their lives. Recently at a performance in Brooklyn, I sat beside, and behind, two friends who showed up with similar casts around their wrists. Turns out that they each had taken falls-- the instinct is often to break them with the wrist. Well, this gives a new twist to that phrase. Another friend is finally getting surgery on his unhealing arm this week...after, yep, a fall on a Manhattan sidewalk.

And this is before winter gets here! At that slushy point, all of us on the East Coast practically crawl over precarious streets. Though, in truth, I would submit that our cellphones are causing more falls than anything, and this, thank god, cannot be blamed on age. One younger friend was checking her messages and slipped terribly while emerging from a taxi. She was in bed for weeks with facial injuries. The only spill I took recently was while texting, missing a bump in the road. There is nothing more maddening and embarrassing than watching your phone fly and shatter, and having folks run over to help.

In fact, there is something more embarrassing, and that's when we do it in front of our kids. I recall how I felt watching my mom take her ultimately fatal fall: she seemed truly fragile, and I could envision what it would be like without her. A few years back, I was stupidly taking out the garbage in the dark, missed a step, and screamed as I tumbled. My son came running out, his concern and fear palpable. I laughed it off, and leaped up to prove I was undeterred. Seeing his relieved face, I hobbled to the bathroom to attend to my painfully bleeding knee. I believe I wept real tears.

Besides the fact that falls hurt--both our bodies and our pride--there must be another reason why suddenly everyone seems to be concerned about them. I guess with Boomers facing the fact that we can't dance and play like we used to, this takes on all kinds of symbolic meaning. Let's face it, the usage of the word itself doesn't help. Falling from grace? Falling short? Falling flat on our face? It clearly signifies downward movement and who wants to admit that? Falling hard used to be a good thing.

A bit of optimism is called for. Maybe in the sequel, Butch can warn Sundance, "The fall won't kill you.....at least not yet."