I was out for a run yesterday when I did something I haven’t done in a long time.
Not like a stumble where you catch yourself and you recover, a little embarrassed but otherwise unharmed, or a slip on the ice that drops you to your backside, sore but at least safe in the knowledge that it could happen to anybody when it’s snowy and icy out and this is Atlanta, after all, who even knows how to deal with ice in the first place?
No, this was a full-on, sprawled on the ground, call-the-paramedics-because-that-old-guy-probably-busted-his-hip fall. A marionette with its strings cut. An AT-AT Walker foot-roped by plucky Hothian rebels.
Bad times. Seriously. Since you’ve been grown, when’s the last time you fell? Like really fell?
I’ve stumbled here and there on trail runs: a gnarled and angry tree root sticks up out of the trail like an angry old man’s cane and it snags your toe as you shuffle past. Luckily, on the trail, you’re either all alone for miles in every direction or accompanied by some like-minded lunatics who have taken their fair share of trail tumbles themselves, and who are therefore likely to be sympathetic if you go down.
And I’ve clipped my fair share of curbs on suburban jaunts, but somehow the physics of shorting a jump don’t seem to send you sprawling the way I went sprawling yesterday.
I was cruising down a very familiar route when I noticed a trio of benches in front of a restaurant I’ve run past close to a hundred times. “Huh,” I thought to myself in that weird self-reflective echoey whisper, “Have those benches always been there, or have I just never noticed them?” Next thing I know, my foot is arrested violently mid-stride and the concrete is rushing at me like that guy I owe money to for things we won’t be discussing here.
No escape. I’m going down. I try to tuck and roll, but the momentum is all wrong, and my toes feel like an elephant has stepped on them, so there’s no pushing off or changing direction. *Wham-scrape* goes the knee, *Bang-skid* goes the elbow, and I sort of weakly flop over onto my back.
Before I notice anything else, I notice the truck stopped at the traffic light not fifty feet away from me. I wonder if he saw me go down (virtually impossible that he wouldn’t), then ponder what would be worse: if he pulls over to offer me assistance, opens his window and laughs at me as he drives by, or simply drives off and leaves me wondering. Thankfully, he rolls off.
I lay there for a few minutes on my back, staring up at the really remarkably clear blue sky. Gorgeous day, actually. I curse at myself audibly, because fargo the delicate sensibilities of anybody who might be passing by. I mentally assess the damage. My left knee and toes hurt like the dickens, but I can move them, so that’s good. I feel like a right stupid idiot, but there’s no lasting damage in that. I sit up, dab at the blood pooling on my knee, prod at my toes. Hurt, but probably not broken. I rise and hobble to the bench — the one that distracted me just a moment ago, how convenient! — and sit there to ponder my life for a moment.
From here I can see clearly the tiny — and I do mean tiny — jag in the sidewalk. A tree overhangs the sidewalk, its roots scrambling out like the capillary roads in an atlas. The roots have obviously pushed the sidewalk up over time, about an inch and a half. My toes (and I was wearing my Vibrams at the time, which means for this particular purpose I might as well have been barefoot) smacked into that tiny outcropping, and that was that.
It occurs to me, too, while I’m sitting here, staring down the sidewalk like it stole my date for the prom, that this is something that should never have happened. I’ve run this route 50 or 60 times over the past few years — maybe closer to 100. Usually in the lazy half-light of sickly streetlights at 5 AM. What business do I have tripping on a plainly obvious imperfection in the sidewalk — one I regularly traverse without even thinking about it in the darkness — in the blazing light of day?
And there it is.
(Things always mean things, right?)
(Of course not, the universe is a whole sort of general mish-mash of unconnected events and meaningless coincidences. But it’s fun to pretend.)
(Where was I? Right. The blazing light of day.)
The lights were on.
I run this route about once per week, but always in the dark. It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you run at night (or in the stupidly early morning), watching only the ground in front of my feet — there’s nothing else to see. But Sunday, the lights were on, and here I was able to notice all sorts of things I never give second thought to: look at the ivy spilling over that fence like a bunch of intestines from an open gut! Check out that crack that runs right down the center of the street, like a subterranean city is pushing up from underneath! Look at that bench over there, I bet I could jump over it in one go if I — SMACK.
There’s a moral here about sidewalks, and that moral is: never look around. Always keep your eyes straight in front of you and never deviate from the sidewalk.
No, wait, that’s not right.
Watch out for sidewalks. They are tricksy and not to be trusted.
Er, that’s not it either.
Don’t take sidewalks for granted. They mark a path that’s cleared and generally trustworthy, but that doesn’t mean you can turn your back on them.
Yeah, that’s better.
Except change “sidewalks” for “life” and I think we’re closing in on something useful that can be taken away from all this.
I took a sidewalk for granted, and ended up with a shredded leg and horrifically stubbed toe. And it’s making me wonder: what else am I taking for granted every day? What else is lurking there, just under my foot, waiting to put me on my ass if I lose focus for just a fraction of a second?
Oh, and in case you were curious: I finished the run.