FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How Falling Down Can Lead to Waking Up: Learning From Loss and Pain

The organic Kokopelli Farm has been my home, as well as my main work, identity, and love, for the last two-dozen years. Then I fell into a badger hole in the ground, covered by grass, on Jan. 15 this year. I crawled painfully uphill back into the house, as if I were a baby. This unwelcome anniversary will remain in my now 73-year old body and memory.

The fall plunged me into deep reflections, followed by life-changing behavior. “You must change your life” is a poetry line from Rilke that kept emerging as I spent hours each day in bed, no longer able to provide “the farmer’s shadow” with daily walks on the land, so essential to good farming.

Growing up is not always easy, even for elders like myself, closer to my death date than my birth date. Maturing can be sparked by a sudden, unexpected incident, like falling. What to do, other than feel sorry for one’s self? How can one turn an apparent loss into a learning experience and gain knowledge from it for one’s self and others?

I began by lightening my load. I decided to give away hundreds of books, DVDs, records, furniture, luggage, dog things, etc., which I had been collecting for decades.

“I call that ‘essentializing,’ commented Alexandra Hart of Transition Sebastopol’s monthly Elders Salon, which has been happening since 2010. “Aging makes one slower, so it means simplifying and seems to require letting go of stuff.”

“We’ve noticed in the Elders Salon that loss almost inevitably brings some kind of gain,” Hart added.

I’ve appreciated the smiles of friends and strangers as they load up books and other things, taking them on a journey into their lives and homes. I’m even asked to autograph some of the 24 books to which I have contributed, reminding me that I can at least still write, even though my body has been diminished. I can still grab a pen, which is how this old-fashioned writer starts every article or book chapter, only using the computer for revisions.

The fall, though deeply painful into my vulnerable knee and neck, became a blessing in disguise. Many friends brought me chicken soup, other food, and helped lessen my isolation. I listened to their stories of having fallen, being sick, and experiencing excruciating pain. I now appreciate even more living in the small town of Sebastopol with its caring community.

LOSS, IDENTITY, FUNCTION, AND CONTROL

“Loss can be conceptualized along three intersecting axes: loss of control, loss of identity, and loss of relationships,” writes Dr. Barbara Sourkes in her book The Deepening Shade: Psychological Aspects of Life-Threatening Illness.

My identity as a farmer has considerable importance to me. I farm most days of the year. After my fall, I have been unable to farm for weeks—such a loss. Among my losses have been many basic body functions and control. I have also had to change my self-image and body-image. Being more dependent on others than usual has been a stretch. I’ve had identities other than as a farmer, especially as teacher and writer.

I’m used to having a good, solid bowel movement every morning, on schedule, which I looked forward to. Yet for two weeks after my fall I had no bowel movements and lost 15 pounds, which is 10% of my weight. What a relief when I began gaining weight and had my first bowel movements, though they came out mainly as liquid.

“When I’m physically drained, I often don’t feel like talking,” a client told Dr. Sourkes. As an introvert, though also a public person, I sometimes feel the same. Some friends have worn me down by their needs to talk, talk, talk. “I’m all talked out,” I say at times, which can make me feel like the bad guy.

My fall dramatically changed my self-image and body-image. I now consider myself temporarily (hopefully) disabled.  I notice others with canes and am more cautions with my movements, which have been limited. As my friend David Goff writes, “Falling is scary.”

FRIENDS TELL THEIR STORIES

Instead of hiding my fears, I have been sharing them with friends, some of whom report their own stories. “You strike a familiar chord of vulnerability that we all face, especially in our later years,” observed body-worker Jeff Rooney. “I work with many people now older than I and a big theme is falling and fear of falling. People know from observing others that falling is often a step away from dying. A hip breaks and before you know it, the person is gone.”

Being in bed alone for hours can be boring, oh so boring. Add some pain and it can be even worse, with sleep being difficult. At times I have felt distant and even absent from this now-broken body.

“With my long illness I have had to reevaluate what I can do, which is tied to who I am,” writes my friend Janus Matthes. “Passing along our worldly goods is a positive action as we round third base.”

“I chose to embrace and not fight age and what goes with aging–less energy, more simplicity, enjoy what things truly feed my soul,” she added. “We are such a youth culture in this country. As I age, I realize we all have our day in the sun and hope the youthful generations take full advantage of their time on this most amazing planet.

“Reflecting on my upcoming April hip replacement and the 3 surgeries I’ve had in the past 4 years has put me through many changes and changed the way I look at life, see myself and look at the world,” said my neighbor Robert Teller. “It has taken me on many journeys, altered my life style, challenged my spiritual core and offered me an inner peace that I have not known before.”

One date stands out in my recovery: Jan. 27, which was my most painful day. I’ve never contemplated taking my life, except on that day. That extreme pain, accompanied by crying and screaming, educated me about why some people commit suicide. Fortunately, I had a strong painkiller. I took it reluctantly and was finally able to sleep. Blessed Be!

One means of taking some control of one’s life as a person feels loosing it because of sickness or something else is to do what I am doing here—write it down.

So what have I been learning from my fall and the subsequent shut-in? Now I know, in my body, that one day it’s going to all be over and now I am a step closer to death. I’ve been here before, in my mind, but now I feel it in my soul and in the core of who I am.

Humans are so “fragile,” my brother Steve Bliss recently reminded me about we two-footeds. I am actually now three-footed, since I walk with a cane, to stabilize myself, but that should eventually change. “Tomorrow’s a new day,” my brother reminded me, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote.

This learning experience is still evolving. So where do I go from here? I’m not sure. I feel suspended between the no-longer and the not-yet.

Or as the elder Doug von Koss recently quoted a Sufi saying, “We have three days to live, and two of them are gone.”

 

More articles by:

Shepherd Bliss teaches college part time, farms, and has contributed to two-dozen books. He can be reached at: 3sb@comcast.net.

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Susan Block
Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
David Yearsley
Smoke on the Water: Jazz in San Francisco
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail