I recently took a fall. Isn’t it interesting how we construct that statement? I took a fall. Kind of like I took a trip or I took a journey. I took a fall.
And in many ways, my last fall was a type of journey. It started with only a split second, the knowledge that I had stepped on snow-covered ice and before I knew it, I was face down in the snowy road, with the garbage can (which I had been pulling to the curb) pinning my right arm. Just one second to begin my journey; it was a fast start. The journey of recovery has been slower, but like all journeys, it has helped me grow and taught me a lot, mostly about myself. I’d rather grow from international travel than a fall, but there you have it. I took a fall, smashed my right wrist, and tore my shoulder. A journey: No passport required.
The injuries to my right hand, which needed extensive time to heal, immediately thrust me into a foreign world: the world of one-handedness. Do we pay attention to the many things it takes two hands to do? Buttering toast, for one. Cutting food. Cutting anything. And you can brush your teeth with one hand but balancing the toothbrush so it doesn’t fall over when you are putting on the toothpaste? Hard to do with only one functional hand.
Since the one hand I could use was my left, I was also thrust immediately into the world of left-handedness. Now I fit with about 8-10% of the world’s population—the ones who have (in the past) been considered wrong, unlucky, or worse. The Latin word sinister means Left as well as unlucky. We still use the term a “left-handed compliment” to mean one that is, at least at one level of meaning, unflattering. I have to say that I am a little glad to be only temporarily left-handed. Right-handed people live, on average, about 7 years longer than left-handed people. No one knows why, although one theory suggests that it is due to the accidents left-handed people have in a right-handed world. Despite the fact that there really is a range of handedness (right, left, mixed—about 30% who switch tasks between hands—and truly ambidextrous—those who can do any task equally well with either hand), the world is built for the majority: right-handed people. I have a child who is left-handed—and I had never realized the many ways he must be right-handed to cope with the world—think driving, for example. The gear shifts are on the right hand—and so is the ignition. I have learned that left-handers are more likely to be gifted in music and math, even those who play instruments such as the violin. Which must be played with the right hand. Luckily, forks and spoons can be used efficiently with either hand. I could feed myself. I was happy about that, although I found I preferred sandwiches.
The word “fall” has been around for a while and dictionaries list hundreds of synonyms for it: We stumble. We slip. We trip. We topple. We tumble. We drop. We flop. Most of these signify movement from uprightness to some degree of not-uprightness—and that, too, has interesting double meanings.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines fall as a verb to mean a dropping down, a descent , a downward stroke, shedding (as in blood), sinking, decline, decay …and fall as a noun in nightfall—the coming down or approach of the first part of night, the fall of the leaf (or the season of fall) or a takedown in wrestling. And of course THE Fall.
It’s so common to fall. We fall under a spell. We fall in love. We fall from favor. We fall in battle. We fall behind. We fall back on old habits. We fall in with a crowd. We fall out with our compatriots. We fall into a trap. We fall ill. We fall prey. We fall asleep. We fall through the rabbit hole. We fall apart.
I’ve fallen—in the dictionary meaning of “dropping down by the force of gravity” many times. I tried to make a list of the falls I’ve taken, not counting those involved in activities that make falls likely, and realize that even just the ones I remember number quite a few.
Probably more important than the fall is finding balance after the fall, getting up, dusting ourselves off, and continuing on. Everyone has heard a saying along the lines of “the only failure in falling is failing to get up” I tried to find the origin—who said it first–and found a version of that saying attributed to many well-known people as diverse as Bon Jovi, Vince Lombardi, and Confucius. The truth of the statement must be universal, right? Getting up matters, maybe more than anything.
Deborah, a former junior high and high school teacher, is associate professor at Brigham Young University, where she teaches writing and English teaching courses. Deborah has published articles in English Journal, Voices from the Middle, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, and others. She is the author of several books, including Strategic Writing: The Writing Process and Beyond in the Secondary English Classroom (NCTE), Bringing Grammar to Life (IRA), and Genre Theory (NCTE).