Yesterday I decided to ride my bicycle to the grocery store in an effort to reduce my carbon footprint, as well as get a little exercise. A little backstory, I haven’t ridden a bicycle for the better half of a decade, but I was optimistic. “This should be fun,” I told myself. Getting to the grocery store proved no problem. There were a couple of instances where it got a little shaky, but I managed. It was only after I had finished shopping, after I had regained the confidence to ride like Knieval, that reality struck.
On my way home, I pedaled along happily, the punishingly catchy melodies of Empire of the Sun blaring in my ears. Feeling free and alive, I did one of those swerve paddles you see in commercials. You know the kind I’m talking about. Beautiful people with their cruiser bikes and wicker baskets, swerving to and fro, laughing as they ride off slow motion into the sunset. Except this wasn’t a commercial, this was real life. In no time flat, I found myself swan diving head first into the pavement. Thankfully, instinct kicked in. I tucked my head into my right shoulder and tumbled. My legs, lacking all elegance, finished rotation and flopped onto the sidewalk, leaving me staring into the sun. Passersby might have mistaken me as a man who partakes in sunset sidewalk sunbathes. Except a sidewalk is hardly the place for such an activity. Also, I don’t sunbathe. As I motioned to pick myself up off the floor, the effects of the crash settled in. My neck, as well as my heart, were painted in pain. Like clockwork, my paranoia set in. Almost instantaneously my thoughts went from, ‘Ouch! My neck!’ to the melodramatic, ‘Would I ever be able to look left again? Did my Tour de France dreams shatter against the pavement as the ultraviolet rays of shame poured over me? What would become of my, not just Olympic cycling, hopes and dreams? Would they too, be thrown to the dirt like leftover scraps that even maggots find too worthless to devour?’ Turns out, I overreacted. Besides the obvious gaping wound in my pride and a few scrapes, I would survive. I picked my backpack off the unforgiving concrete and headed home.
Now per my usual, the next few paragraphs will seem completely unrelated and unorganized. But bear with me, there is a valid point to it all. Here we go…When you look at someone like Robert Downey Jr., what do you see? I see a man living quite the charmed life. Besides fame and fortune, he can proudly boast that he’s saved the world from the deadly clutches of an intolerably pale extraterrestrial army and a rather vexed and psychotic, yet eloquent, machine. I’m fairly sure one doesn’t get to be Hollywood’s highest paid actor three times in a row for doing anything less than kicking some major a** while simultaneously killing the style game in a three-piece. However, upon further investigation, I found out that his life was anything but the continuous “crushing it” we’ve grown accustomed to. Before donning the red and gold iron suit, he wore an orange one. Before he could save millions of fictional lives from imminent doom, he had to save his own. On screen he’s fought some serious monsters, but the toughest demons he’s faced were inner ones.
In the 1980s, it was easy to see why Robert became one of Hollywood’s most promising actors. Unfortunately, problems in his personal life caused his skill to be overshadowed by his drug and gun wielding antics. Neither arrests, jail time, nor sheer embarrassment could stop this calamitous spiral downward. Sidebar, he was discovered in a hotel high on cocaine while wearing…wait for it…a Wonder Woman costume. I’ll give you a moment to let the imagery settle in.
Downey, like so many of us, had fallen. Fortunately, he decided to get back up. Leaving the glock and rolled up white tipped hundred dollar bills in the past, he got clean. Through sheer will and determination, he climbed his way out from rock bottom. Is it weird that I picture a dark well filled with edged rocks erupting out of the water surrounded by moss covered stone when I think of rock bottom? Anyway, his ability to persevere and make one of the most endearing comebacks in pop culture solidified his status as one of our generations greatest entertainers.
There are many figures throughout history, like Downey, who managed to overcome some rather discouraging misfortunes. Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th President of the U.S., had some pretty interesting hiccups in the timeline of his life. Before becoming President of the free world, he failed at real estate. Before leading the Union to victory against the Confederates, he quit the army. Even after re-enlisting, his first few battles were nothing to write in history books about. He also suffered from depression, which led to a few major booze fueled bingers. Success for Ulysses was by no means an overnight affair. Success, for him, took time. It took hard work, perseverance, and a couple of gonads made of steel. It took him picking himself up after every failure and knowing that he could do better.
You see, the reality is, you are going to fall. Life is anything but easy, breezy, beautiful: Covergirl. Life is more like a beautiful day at the beach, and then boom! HURRICANE! Life is going to throw you, hard. It doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t care that you hold the door open for strangers. It doesn’t care if you recycle. It definitely doesn’t care that you are trying to live responsibly and economically by riding your bicycle to the grocery store. Life does not discriminate. The trick with getting through life isn’t about preventing the fall or seeing it coming in hopes of dodging it. It’s about learning how to take the fall, and rising after the beating.
Since most of my ramblings seem to be on the subject of a** kicking, let’s tumble into it a little more. See what I did there? In martial arts, particularly Judo, there is a technique called Ukemi. The term translates to “receiving body or self” when thrown and refers to the concept of falling safely. One could argue that all I did was practice Ukemi while growing up. Ukemi off the couch. Ukemi off the roof. Ukemi off a flimsy plumeria branch in my grandmother’s back yard. Just, Ukemi all over the darn place. It wasn’t by choice, but falling quickly became my second favorite past time. My first was providing unsolicited sarcasm laced commentary. Anyways, back to my point. Every fall was different. Some had me facing the sky, while others had me involuntarily breathing in dirt. For me, it wasn’t about not falling. I knew I would fall again, I had a natural inclination for it. It was about learning how to take the hit. So when I got knocked down, the getting up would be a little less painful. I was, one might argue, a Jedi Master of falling. The result of an incalculable number of scrapes and bruises resulted in the most glorious of inverse effects. Living had made me the Obi-Wan Kenobi of falling. Falling, in turn, made me the Yoda of getting back up. ‘Good at falling, I was. Better at getting up, I became!’
Get up! Get better! Handle it!
Ukemi-Wan Kenobi aka Dustin
-Educ8 Writer Ordinaire