I tripped and fell while walking to work on Friday, one of those middle-of-the-street, catch-your-toe-on-a-crack falls. In younger days I would have bounced up while hoping nobody witnessed the event. With this fall I just laid there, and then yelled, “Oh, fuuuuucckk. It hurts!” That’s not an expletive I use much, but it just came pouring out in the moment.
Once I managed to rise it was obvious I was alone in the street with my injured ego, unless someone secretly watched through windows wondering why the fat guy in the street was clutching his chest, picking up his phone, and gathering his coffee mug.
The fall unfolded in slow motion. Just before tripping I experienced feelings of joy. I had navigated stress-filled weeks at work, worry about my mom, travel days, and getting knocked off my better-eating and better-fitness regimen. My mood was light, and Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” tickled my brain through earbuds. It had been years since I’d heard the ’80s song from my high school days and hearing the cheesy Rocky III theme made me smile. The spring day, the song, the feeling of accomplishment for having gone five straight days getting up early to lift weights, read spiritual texts, journal my thoughts…it was all there giving me the feeling that I could conquer the day and weeks ahead.
I didn’t fall instantly. It was one of those falls when you catch your toe on something and stumble forward, running to catch up with yourself. When younger my feet often caught up with my body. But not this time, and after several flailing steps I knew I was headed for a face plant. On the way down, instinct from years-ago military training took over and I tucked and rolled.
Well, I tucked but didn’t roll and landed with my fist between the asphalt and my chest. I laid there stunned. After clearing my head I wondered if my heart was failing. Of course it wasn’t but the chest blow hurt so bad all I could do was yell at the world that it hurt like hell.
I eventually rose and walked the remaining mile to my office. After washing my bloodied hand, I contemplated the damage and assumed the biggest injury was to my ego and, other than a little soreness, the event had ended. But as the day wore on the pain in my chest grew until I could no longer sit, stand, or recline without piercing pain. I thought I’d broken ribs or maybe my heart would explode. Late in the day, X-rays and a medical examination indicated no breaks, just swelling from muscle contusions and pulls.
Along with ice and anti-inflammation medicine for the physical injury, I’ve applied several rounds of verbal self-flagellation for my stupidity in falling. I have too many things to do to spend time healing but now I have no choice. Of course the negative self talk has done nothing to help the situation (as wise women in my life constantly remind me). I also went through the process of blaming others, for example, the ubiquitous street cracks and potholes in my fair city (as ubiquitous as dandelions). Maybe it was the sun’s fault, or my progressive trifocals. It had to be somebody or something’s fault, right? Something ruined what had been a positive start to a new day.
But I’m the one who tripped. I’m the one who got carried away by the nostalgia of listening to Eye of the Tiger with my head in the clouds, not fully present in the physical act of walking. I want to blame something because every time I take action to change the course of my life for the better (like walking five miles most days), it seems like something conspires to knock me off course.
Earlier that morning I’d read Chapter 4 in the Biblical book of James, the section where James says to resist the devil and he will flee from you. That’s it… the devil made me do it. He or it wants me to fail. I haven’t always believed in the Devil, or a devil, but the idea of the devil conspiring to knock me off course has arisen in recent weeks during conversations and my readings. I don’t know with certainty if there’s a physical or spiritual devil. I do know that Matthew’s gospel documents Jesus being tempted by the devil after forty days and nights of fasting. So if Jesus was challenged at a low point by a person, thing, or idea called the devil, I imagine I’m challenged by it too.
I looked up the meaning of the phrase “eyes of the tiger.” Apparently, when one sees the eyes of the tiger in the wild, death is imminent as the tiger turns the backs of its ears with their spots, or “eyes”, toward its prey before attacking. I kinda think of the devil like that, lurking and attacking its prey in moments of weakness or in moments when we’re not fully present. Although referencing a lion rather than a tiger, Peter wrote in his first letter, “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” So, what to do?
Jesus demonstrated examples of how to counter the devil’s attacks in the Gospel of Matthew. And James, after telling his readers to resist the devil, says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” Perhaps I’m oversimplifying things or misinterpreting things, but it seems that when we’re confronted with eyes of the tiger and “death” is imminent, we have an out. When confronted with the devil in the form of a box of donuts, we don’t have to eat them. We don’t have to throw back the contents of the whiskey bottle, spread gossip, hate our enemies, wallow in defeat. Instead we can resist and draw near to God. I visualize the hungry, crazed, attacking devil inches from my face, and then sulking away as I call on the name of a power greater than it.
I tripped and fell, injuring my body. I followed it up with negative self talk, wallowing in defeat about how my plans had been ruined, and finding someone to blame. While I want to put it on the devil, I’m the one with the choice to resist or be devoured. I can live in the defeat of the moment or I can daily renew my commitment to physical and spiritual health, and the Creator of all things good will draw near. For when Jesus rebuked the devil, “Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.”