My mind has been somewhat restless in the past couple of weeks, and that has resulted in a touch of insomnia and a slew of strange dreams. Last night’s was, perhaps, the one that has stuck with me the most. When I finally drifted off to sleep, I dreamt I was in my childhood home, standing at the top of the stairs. I started to walk down, but I slipped and fell immediately.
Over and over throughout the dream, I was at the top of the stairs. Each time, I’d make it a little further down before somehow falling again.
A little backstory for those who don’t know much about the house I called home for twenty-plus years: There were fourteen carpeted stairs. We’re talking thick carpet, which is easy to slip on. Throughout my years in that house, my room was always upstairs, directly in front of the staircase. I can’t tell you how many times I actually did fall down those stairs. My siblings and I learned the hard way that socks on the stairs were not a good idea, that pushing your sister down the stairs in a “bus” fashioned out of an old fridge box would result in her breaking landspeed records and quickly smashing into the wall, that if you were scared or excited and decided to run up or down them it was going to result in twisted ankles or bruises, and that you had to exercise caution oftentimes. In short, we fell, a lot.
For those reasons, the dream of falling repeatedly shouldn’t have bothered me; yet, when I awoke, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It was a frustrating dream, for sure, but it stayed with me, making me think things through—probably more than I should.
However, after dwelling on said dream for admittedly too long, I’ve come to realize that it was quite symbolic of life. We have a starting point and often a goal in mind (the top and bottom of the stairs, if you will). No matter what happens, we’re going to fall from time to time.
That first fall—be it a heartbreak, a bad decision made, a complete failure at something in which you were supposed to excel, a crisis of identity, whatever—is the most shocking. It’s something you don’t expect and don’t see coming. All is well. You’re walking (or in the case of my dream, bounding) along, and suddenly an ankle twists, and you go down. You go down hard, sometimes to the point of wanting to sit and cry, reliving the nasty nature of your spill.
After that first fall, you’re more cautious. You see those pitfalls. You’re on full alert. You’re guarded. You know not to get too excited or move too quickly. You learn the lessons about the socks and about watching where you step. This time, you get a little further along your journey. Sometimes it happens when you’re still using caution; sometimes it happens if you’ve briefly forgotten and looked away. But, it still happens. You fall again. This time it hurts a little worse, because, dammit, you should have known better.
You dust yourself off again, and if you’re like me in the dream, you start back at square one. This time, you’re determined. Nothing is going to get in your way. You’re going to get where you need to go, and you’re not going to be stupid enough to fall down those stairs again. You remind yourself who you are and where you’re going, and you reinforce that confidence, assured that this is the time you succeed. Somehow, somewhere along the way, you still fall. Sometimes we see the fall coming, and proceed anyway. Sometimes, it’s out of the blue.
I’m not being pessimistic. But, after careful review, I really do think this dream represents life, and it showcases the ways in which we are too hard on ourselves for our “falls.” In my dream, I fell about ten times. TEN TIMES ON FOURTEEN STAIRS! You’d think I could get it together, but I was on the struggle bus, apparently. I woke up frustrated and even a little mad at myself, before I could fully wake up and laugh it off.
The thing is, life is a relatively short journey—not fourteen stairs, short, but you know what I mean. It is short, and it has pitfalls. It has distractions and times when we fall flat on our faces. Sometimes, we slip. Sometimes, we’re pushed. Either way, we end up hurting. Life has times when, even though we’ve already learned the lesson, we have to start over and re-learn, often in painful fashion. It’s full of rough times that knock us down, make us doubt ourselves, and leave us bruised or battered.
Sometimes, we have to simply "face plant" before we can get back up.
But, life is also an opportunity. It’s a chance to learn, to grow, to pick yourself back up, and to start over if you have to. It’s those knock-downs that remind us to start over. They strengthen us, they teach us, and they help us grow.
Sure, after that many times of falling down, we could get bitter. We could get angry. We could decide to never believe we’ll make it down that journey. We could grow bitter with others, and we could lose all ability to trust. Some do. Some don’t, and I admire those who continue trying, continue trusting, and use each falling down experience as a chance to get back up, and with renewed determination, begin the journey again.
To get where we're going, we have to take the risks and take those steps.
There will always be the chance that you’ll fall. You may make a huge mistake, you may lose sight of yourself, fall in love with the wrong person again, get fired from a job, realize you’re already halfway down a path you never should have been on, or revisit past mistakes only to make them once again. There is always that possibility, and nothing in life is truly certain. But, there’s also always a chance to start over, to stand up and move forward again. Without the falling down, there would be no lessons to learn, no way to readjust and grow.
Though we may fall, we must continue getting back up and moving on toward our goal, with the vision that even if we fall again, we are resilient.