Anatomy of a black eye…

Last night I took a major tumble in the parking lot of one of my favorite grocery stores. I’ll set the stage: First of all, it was a winter’s dark, around 5:30 p.m., and the parking lot was poorly lit. This last fact is ironic, since the lot is owned by the high-brow lighting store next to the grocery store. Secondly, the pavement in the lot is uneven, something I had noticed in the past, but not quite in the same visceral way as I did last night. So what happened? Pretty simple. My cart, full of bags of groceries, got caught in a depression in the pavement – basically a two inch hole that is one foot wide – and keeled over. Since I was pushing the cart, I went with it. Now here’s where my mind gets obsessive, as I try to envision the physics of a shopping cart falling over. Where does it land? And which contact points on my body are evidence of its motion? In that split second or seconds, as I went forward, my mind registered an “oh no”, until the final hit when my nose slammed into a metal bar on the cart. I still cannot figure out which bar came into contact with my nose, although I also realize that there truly is no point in knowing. 

Alone in the parking lot, I stood up and disentangled from the various metal pieces of the cart and walked away, searching for some help. For anyone who has been in an accident, you know that our bodies go into shock, adrenaline creating the capacity to function, to seek out safety or help. I yelled to a woman who looked at me in horror and she asked me if I wanted her to call an ambulance. Sure, I said. Then I ambled back towards the store and was met by another woman, who said she was a nurse and sat me down by the side of the road. Other people began to gather, and I realized that I was bleeding a lot. I was oblivious to how I looked, but judging by their responses, it looked bad. Someone got me tissues, and within five or so minutes, the fire department was there, and I was surrounded by around six burly guys, until a moment later, when a policeman broke through the line of firefighters and began asking me questions. “What’s your name, your address, your phone number? Did you lose consciousness at any time? Did you hit your head on the ground, or just the shopping cart? Is there anyone you need to call?” I was mighty pleased that I could answer his questions and that my mind was functioning.

Meanwhile, the fire truck and police car lights were swirling, as I sat quietly with my new friend, this anonymous nurse who sat by my side, a constant source of support. Somewhere in the midst of the chaos, a couple of employees from the store joined us, and left. Another shopper came up to me to say he had the very same accident a few moments before. I can’t remember if I asked him if he was okay. Oddly enough, I appreciated that I wasn’t alone. The ambulance arrived, and two EMT workers began to question me. “Did I want to get in the ambulance or drive myself to the hospital?” I couldn’t fathom driving at that point. “Was I sure?” YES, I was sure. I kept trying to reach my husband, whose phone was out-of-reach, but finally got hold of my daughter as I was getting into the ambulance, and she joined the action from afar. After I hung up with her, the EMT worker, the only dour person I encountered through this “adventure”, told me that I shouldn’t swear when I get into the emergency room, or they wouldn’t treat me as quickly. What? I wasn’t even aware I was swearing, but then I can imagine that I said a few choice words when I talked to my daughter, and then my husband. Isn’t swearing the norm when someone has been in an accident? What odd advice…

At the emergency room, things moved quickly, then slowly, then quickly. A practitioner examined me, my husband arrived, I got x-rays for various body parts, and the conclusion was that I possibly broke my nose. Not surprisingly, a few people at the hospital asked me if I “feel safe”; code for, “are you a victim of domestic violence?” I’m glad that the awareness of these issues has translated to policy and hospital practice. And truthfully, I do look like someone punched me in the face. One day later, and the grocery store personnel are being kind and responsible. They have reported both accidents to their corporate office, and expressed tremendous regret to me. Apparently some workers arrived later last night to fill the hole where two of us tripped and fell. I am grateful that there are so many people who rise to the occasion and share their kindness in an emergency. And I wish I knew how to contact the nurse, for example, just to say thanks again, although I discovered that we live in the same neighborhood so maybe we’ll run into each other. She may not recognize me though. I’d also like to know how the other guy who fell is doing. Neither of us are spring chickens…

Which brings me to my final point… Falls for older people can be the beginning of the end. Falls are one of the precipitating factors that land older people in nursing homes. I’ve seen the impact of a fall on my own father, and the mother of a friend just died after a nasty fall. Luckily, I’m not in that category of “old” yet, but it does make you think. As an aging woman, I’m still strong and healthy, working full-time, engaged in life and ready for more. I don’t feel like slowing down, as I hear from some of my friends who are inching up to “older”. But how DO you juxtapose moving fast through the world, which I am wont to do, while having an eye towards balancing risk and caution? I still haven’t figured it out. Meanwhile, I will nurse my swollen face and black eye, and reassure anyone who asks that I haven’t been abused, other than by a nasty shopping cart. 

I met her on a plane…

Sitting next to the young priest, I am shocked when he confesses to me that he is lonely. He says he has considered giving up the church to be with the woman he loves. They met when he officiated at her husband’s AND her father’s funerals. Through this deeply painful experience, he has fallen head over heels for her and the feelings are reciprocated. Alas, she rejects taking any action on her feelings and he is confused. I do not know this man, but, as I listen, I wonder if this is a common conundrum among priests, if he’s making it all up, or if it’s a rare and tragic dilemma. 
I shrink when he asks me what I think, shocked that he is seeking out my advice. We have known each other for no more than 30 minutes, and moreover, who am I, a secular Jew, to advise a priest about something that I imagine is considered blasphemy. I offer my reflections… because we are from very different worlds; because we will never encounter one another again; because there is nothing to lose. When I get back home, I cannot resist googling him, because I have my doubts he is for real. And there he is, exactly as he has portrayed himself, a suburban priest, working in a traditional parish that has a choir and a social action committee, and a successful capital campaign he has described to me.

I get to thinking about the people I’ve met on planes with whom I’ve had intimate conversations. In fact, the reason I started this blog is because of an amazing blogger – Ann Handley – who spent a few hours as my seat-mate from Boston to LA, extolling the benefits of blogging. She is my only plane friend with whom I have maintained contact. (see Ann’s book, co-authored with C.C. Chapman, called Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, eBooks and Webinars –

What is it about that suspended time spent with a stranger, tens of thousands of feet above the ground? Perhaps it is the anonymity of the relationship. Or maybe these immediate zing-like bonds are inspired by a basic fear of flying, allowing us to use our potential last moment of connection to share the story of our lives. Or perhaps it’s simply to fend off sheer boredom, a way to make time pass quickly, or a way to experience adventure in a closed capsule where nothing can go horribly wrong. I’m not always up for a chat; there are certainly times that I appreciate the solitude of plane time, where it is easier to concentrate on work or a book or knitting without interruption. And I’m certainly not alone there, as tons of travelers dig into their ipads and spread sheets.

But I often welcome these contacts, and occasionally they “pay off” unexpectedly. I once told a woman with whom I was chatting in the back of the plane that I was considering leaving my consulting work and getting a stable job. To this total stranger, I posited that I should probably be “settled” into a “regular” job sooner than later. Why did I divulge this internal dilemma that I hadn’t shared with anyone else? We had known each other for a sum total of 20 minutes. But she listened well, and her advice was pivotal in my thinking. Either she was a quick read or she was very lucky, but whatever she said clicked, and I am forever grateful.

My friendships have extended to the flight attendants. On the way to Minneapolis, one flight attendant sold me a pair of orange-y glass earrings right off her ears that I love – designed and created by her daughter. On the way back from New Orleans, another flight attendant confessed that she hated her job and asked me to keep a look-out for her. And yet another gave me great advice about how to find a deal on his airline. It’s likely that I’ll never see any of these people again, and that is the beauty of it.

I used to hate getting on a plane because of my fear of flying. Many trips later, I now anticipate the opportunity to observe a slice of the universe, trapped together, as we all are, in close quarters.