i was ten with a camera in my hand. we were in the woods at sleepaway camp and there was a teepee. particular about photographs even back then, i wanted to take a full-length photograph of the teepee and the best way was to step behind a big pine tree and part the branches to take the photo. i brushed aside the branches and aimed my pocket instamatic camera only to realize that i needed to step back just a bit more to get the picture i wanted. i stepped back the teeniest bit to get my shot. and suddenly there was no ground.
i fell backwards about thirty feet off the cliff.
in my zeal for the photo i hadn’t noticed the cliff edge hiding behind the pine tree, which was precariously perched just off its side. after moments during which i’m guessing i was knocked out, i could hear the camp counselor and my best friend freaking out up on the trail and i tentatively moved things around – arms, legs and such. everything seemed to work. and in the odd swimming motions i was making down below teepee-land, i realized i had fallen into a gigantic pile of pine branches, all piled up, generously softening my fall. a few feet to either side and the dry ground was as hard as the large rock outcroppings scattered in the woods of camp koinonia in upstate ny. it seemed completely shocking to fall three stories and be absolutely fine and, when they made it down to where i was in the middle of branches and just a bit scratched up, the counselor, susan and i started laughing uncontrollably. how it went right is beyond me, but, somehow, luck prevailed.
we finished reading the salt path, a profoundly moving account of a newly-homeless couple hiking the entirety of the south west coast path in the UK. as one of the reviews reads, “inspiring…a true story of love, hope, and survival against impossible odds.” (j. santlofer)
five pages before the end, raynor winn wrote, “the shock of something going right is almost as powerful as when it goes wrong.” i was reading aloud. i read that line and stopped. i told d i had to re-read it. i read that line again and stopped. and i cried. not giant loud sobs like any of us in these fraught times deserve, but tears sliding down my face, uncontrollably, salty like the mist on the coast path. i was brought to a standstill by one sentence.
these times have proffered many surprises. we have felt challenged by challenges, betrayed by betrayals, silenced and minimized, left in the lurch. we have been cautious, we have bootstrapped. we have been canny by need, scrappy by necessity. we have found surprises at every turn. and, just at the time difficulty has made you get used to things going wrong, suddenly, you are shocked by something going right. someone has reached out. someone has cared. something – even one tiny thing – changed in the frequency pitches around you. something – even one tiny thing – is on the horizon. something – even one tiny thing – lifted the mist, that fog of uncertainty with side orders of confusion, grief.
and when you stepped off the cliff, you landed in a soft pile of pine needles.