It is one of my earliest memories, but I can still recall the smallest of details. I fly out the front door, busting with excitement. Behind me, the old screen door slaps against the door frame, the latch broken. My feet pound against the asphalt driveway with determination as I run to meet my friends.
I am more shocked than afraid when my feet become tangled in my untied shoelaces, causing me to fall. When I attempt to stand, I realize I am hurt. I limp back to the house, knee bruised and bloody. I am wailing the entire time, more, I think, as a result of the abrupt turn of events, than from the pain of injury.
After my mother rinses the dirt out of my wound, she dabs bright orange mercurochrome on my knee cap and covers it with a gauzy bandage. Then we go to the freezer, and she lets me pick out my favorite flavor of popsicle. I eat it at the kitchen table while my mother washes the dishes. The cold treat melts faster than I can eat it, and soon the formica table top is covered in a spider web of sticky purple goo. When I finish, my mother checks my shoelaces, and then sends me back outside to play.
I don’t run this time. Instead I walk slowly down the driveway and look around, afraid of getting hurt again if I don’t pay attention to my surroundings. My friends are nowhere to be seen. I forgo any adventures I had planned for the day, deciding I would rather sit among the dandelions and play with the multitude of seed pods falling from the tree above me.
Over forty years have passed, but there are times when I feel that way still, as if I want to go running straight into my life to see what it has in store for me, but I always hold myself back. I could fall down. I could get hurt. My hopes and dreams might not live up to my expectations. Of course, I might succeed, but there are no guarantees. Better to bide my time here, with the caterpillars and the dandelions. It’s pretty enough, although it can be a bit dull at times.
It’s a safe way to live, but not entirely satisfying. There have been missed opportunities, and challenges declined in favor of a more secure choice. In my desire to avoid the pain of loss, I often sacrificed the chance to experience the thrill of accomplishment. I felt prudence would help me avoid disappointment, and therefore lead to happiness.
Now I’m not so sure.
When I think of that day long ago day now, it’s not the falling down that captures my attention anymore. It’s the presence of someone who loves me, who picked me up, and restored my body and spirit before sending me back out into the world again. And doesn’t that change everything?
I can’t relive my past, but I can make new choices today. I can step into the world with confidence, knowing those who love me are cheering me on.