by Robert Gillis
Published in The Foxboro Reporter 12/2002 and the Boston City Paper 12/2006
It’s 10:56 Thursday evening. ER is over and it’s time to walk the pups. I get my coat on, get the leash on the dog, flashlight in pocket, and I’m out the door. The air is crisp, and my mind is on a hundred other things.
It happens so fast. There’s no warning — just that sick recognition that something is wrong but there’s no time to do anything about it, like the moment before the car door locks and you realize the keys are still in the ignition.
I’m falling. The temperature has obviously dropped and everything is a sheet of invisible ice. WHAM! I take most of the brunt of the landing on my elbow and back.
Now, much as I’d like to tell you that years of living under Earth’s yellow sun has granted me invulnerability, or that doing all my own stunts in my action movies allowed me to tuck and roll and escape injury, the truth is I got really hurt in the fall. My immediate priority was to get the dog to safety so I put him in his little pen. I felt like I’d been in a car crash — there was instant panic. Instinctively, I started shaking limbs, looking for broken bones. There wasn’t any, but I knew I’d have a couple of baseball-size bruises on my elbow and back.
Now, why in the world would I write about such an accident, especially when I belong to a wonderful community organization that loves to award a “frog” to the Jaycee who performed the best blunder of each month?
Truthfully, because I did a lot of thinking after it happened. I couldn’t shake the notion that life can change in an instant, and it’s almost always unexpected. Here I am one moment, reviewing a Christmas card list in my heard and walking my dog, and in the next I’m in a state of panic, in real pain, and checking for broken bones.
That night, it felt like almost another slap, another test of faith. Without going into personal detail, Sue and I have recently witnessed an injustice, and someone we care about is suffering because of it. We tried to help him but in the end we couldn’t. I won’t go into detail in so public a forum, but right now the family is hurting and many have had their faith shaken including me.
The Sunday before my fall, I was in church. I honestly didn’t want to be there; I was so angry with God for what had happened to the family. That’s probably a terrible thing to say, especially considering the time of year, but it’s honest and I’ve always believed that a person of faith must question that faith sometimes. My mind kept wandering at why God had allowed certain recent events to unfold as they did.
I didn’t get answers, but I keep praying. I’m frustrated sometimes, but I keep praying. It’s not the 12 years of Catholic school or a sense of duty; even in the darkest times in my life, I’ve always felt the need to keep talking to God, even when I’m unhappy with Him. Even when I don’t understand His plan. Even when someone I love is hurting.
Last night, as I lay in bed with my good wife holding me and an ice pack on my elbow, knowing tomorrow would require many Advil’s, I got to thinking how very bad that fall on the ice could have been. It was just the right angle that I could have cracked my skull, lost consciousness, or broken a couple of bones. I landed right on spine. The aftermath could have been horrific — but it wasn’t.
Life can change in an instant — or not. Maybe sometimes something bad happens but we realize how much worse it could have been and we’re still grateful for the outcome, however painful it might be.
I still have no answers to why certain events in my family’s life have unfolded as they did, but I have to put it all in God’s hands. I have to believe that He’ll make things right. And he’ll do it on His time, not mine. I have to believe that.
The miracle of Christmas is about love and hope. And somehow, knowing He’s there, to cushion the fall a little, and help me back up on my feet, bruised but not beaten will make all the difference.