So you can imagine how amped I get every two years when the Olympics come around! I get so jazzed watching our American athletes do their best while wearing their red, white and blue uniforms. I love seeing how much they love representing the USA. I love hearing the Star Spangled Banner play during the medal ceremonies and seeing the tears of joy and pride that stream down the athletes’ faces because the anthem is playing for them. And I’ll admit it – I love the competition. I want to know who won the most medals, which country won the most gold medals, and where the US is in the medal count. I want to know this: are we winning?
The 2012 Olympics in London just wrapped up this past weekend. The opening ceremony was lackluster, in my opinion, and the closing ceremony was just as “meh”, but the two weeks’ worth of competition in between was phenomenal. World records were broken left and right. Individual US athletes and teams gave repeat and three-peat gold medal performances. Michael Phelps won his record breaking 22nd Olympic medal. Not to be outdone by the veterans of the games, up-and-coming teenaged athletes showed their mettle in winning their own gold medals. History was made not only by the presence of the first female athletes from Saudi Arabia but with the first athlete with disabilities to ever compete in the Games. Like I said, phenomenal.
So it was with a bit of disappointment and embarrassment that I watched an American runner have what was basically a temper tantrum on the track in the middle of the 1500m final. Apparently, Morgan Uceny was tripped, but instead of rising above the disappointment and pain by getting up to finish what she started, she dissolved into tears and banged her hands on the track repeatedly while all the other competitors raced to the finish line. Sure, completing the rest of the race would not have guaranteed her a place on the medal stand by any means, but it would have guaranteed that, instead of being remembered for what she didn’t finish, she would be remembered for persevering in the face of misfortune, for giving it her all instead of giving up.
Perhaps I should be more understanding, more forgiving. Perhaps I should try to put myself into her shoes before I “judge” her actions. It’s hard, though, in light of double amputee Oscar Pistorius’ multiple races. It’s hard to empathize with Uceny in light of Manteo Mitchell’s awesome performance during a relay race, a race he finished despite suffering a broken leg. It’s hard to feel badly for her when I hear about Olympians like Bryshon Nellum who not only didn’t give up on his running dream four years ago after being shot several times in the legs but who earned a silver medal.
But still, perhaps I should be more understanding, more forgiving of her very public moment of weakness because after all, aren’t we all prone to weakness? Don’t we all, as flawed human beings, have a tendency to fall flat on our faces every once in a while, sometimes in truly spectacular fashion? Was Uceny’s main problem that she fell or that she fell for all the world to see? Is my main issue with her that she embarrassed her fellow Americans with her emotional outburst or that she reminded me of all the times that I, too, have “shown my butt”?
The other day while listening to the radio, I heard something that really struck a chord with me. I was driving when it heard it, so I had to repeat it aloud over and over again so that my 8yo could write it down for me. I really didn’t want to forget it! While talking about Liu Xiang’s unfortunate but poignant Olympic moment, the DJ said these words:
“It’s not about how you fall but how you get back up that matters.”
I have fallen a lot during my life. I have fallen for so many stupid reasons, for audiences large and small, and in so many ways – too many ways to recount here (not that I would!). But I feel that the falls that have been the hardest to recover from, the falls that hurt the most, are the ones that only One Person could see. The falls that hurt me the most are the ones that hurt my relationship with Him the most. Those were also the falls from which I seemed to take my sweet time to get back up. I am so grateful for the fact that, when I’ve fallen and I can’t get up by myself, I can grab the hand of the One Who waits for me. I can limp over to the confessional where forgiveness and grace are mine for the asking. In thinking about this, I’m left wondering which are worse, though – the falls we cause by tripping ourselves up or the falls we suffer when life deals us a crappy hand, when it feels less like a fall and more like a cosmic shove.
For me, no fall was bigger than the one I experienced when Ella died. Nothing prior to that moment had broken my heart so irrevocably or had wounded my spirit so deeply. One of the worst things about her death was the feeling that the One who had been my Help before – the One who had lifted me up every other time I had fallen – was so freaking far away. I faltered, and my faith faltered. I felt abandoned, ignored, and neglected by the One who is supposed to love me and care for me the most. I felt as though every prayer uttered had fallen on deaf ears, as though every begged-for intention had bypassed Heaven to go straight out into the ether. Prayer works…except for mine.
To be so broken down and to feel so alone was more than I thought I’d ever recover from. I mean, honestly! How do you get back up when you’re busy shaking your fist and angrily yelling the f-word at the One to whom you’re praying? If what you do when you get back up is what matters most but you can’t even get the heck back up, what then? Where does that leave you?
When Ella died, everything stopped. Everything in my life froze, and I just didn’t give a flying fig. I didn’t care if I ever left the house again. I couldn’t be bothered to eat well, to take care of myself, to do anything but the bare minimum for my family. Though I seemed to carry on a near non-stop running commentary going to God, I couldn’t say anything but the tersest of prayers before meals. Going to church was really just going through the motions. I cared, but at the same time, I didn’t care. Maybe I couldn’t care? When I said that everything froze, I mean that I froze. My baby girl was gone, and an overwhelming sense of apathy took her place.
Slowly but surely I’m getting back up. I still manage to get in my own way most of the time, but I am getting back up. When we experience a major fall in real life, we don’t usually jump right back up on both feet; rather, we take a second to catch our breath. We put hands on our knees, working out the kinks and stretching the legs and back as we slowly right ourselves to standing. And so slowly I've gotten to my feet again, making my way forward with the easy, doable stuff like eating right and taking care of my health. Though I am still quite the homebody, I leave the house not just for the must-do errands but for walks and for fun. The physical things - the things I could see, do, and touch - were the easy things to do. I wish I could say that there’s been such swift progress with the hard stuff, though.
The emotional, mental and spiritual stuff doesn’t show on the outside but has left me feeling battered and bruised for much longer after my fall. For as much as my faith faltered after Ella died and for as abandoned and as far away as I felt from God during those many weeks and months, there was no one I turned to more than my Father. I talked incessantly to Him, laying every bit of anger, frustration, betrayal, and sorrow at His feet. I was so angry with Him, but I just could not stop talking to Him. I was so infuriated with Him that the anger seeped into my relationships with my husband and kids. I was angry, and everyone knew it and everyone most certainly felt it. I talked about this anger with a priest in the confessional, and I felt such a release and a lightness afterward. But that anger still rears up its ugly head and is still something that I’m working on, praying about, and laying at God’s feet in the confessional. I still cry. I still ache. I still yell and mutter and cry out to God. Maybe I always will. Maybe that's just the limp that lingers after such a hard fall.
We all fall down. It probably feels like we fall down for the same reasons every single time – bad habits, habitual sins, boneheaded mistakes, human reactions to inhuman events. Sometimes when I crawl back to the One upon Whose infinite mercy and love I rely, I can’t help but imagine that He looks at me with a Father’s love in His eyes while shaking His head, sighing, “Really, Bridget? That again?” I know I’m projecting my own flawed human way of looking at the type of forgiveness we give to those who repeatedly let us down – the slightly grudging kind given with an exasperated sigh rather than the kind accompanied by a hug, a kiss, and a feast of fatted calf. I try to remember that when Jesus fell those three times on the way to Calvary, it was MY sins that shoved him down, my own falls and flaws that tripped him up. If Jesus, with the weight of the cross and all of my sins, could get back up three times, then what is stopping me from getting back up again?
I have fallen in ways that were miles away from graceful, but it is by His Grace that I’ve been able to get back up again. It is by His Grace that I’ve been able to lift my eyes clouded by tears, my heart heavy with grief and my soul aching for peace up to Him. It is only by His Grace that I can stand today and put one foot in front of the other to continue the journey, the slow and oft times difficult race, toward Home where He and my sweet Ella await.
We all fall down. Thanks be to God for the Grace He gives that gets us back up on our feet.
St. Ella, pray for us!