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Fear of Falling
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Earlier this month Kurt Vonnegut died as a result of injuries from a fall. The same week a memorial service was held for Ahmet Ertegun, the founder of Atlantic records, who had also died after falling, in his case, appropriately enough, backstage at a Rolling Stones concert. Both men were in their eighties, an age at which a fall is serious business.

The ability to stand upright is an accomplishment we can all claim (provided we're born healthy) unlike writing bestselling books or founding record companies. To infants, falling down is just part of growing up. I watched my kids take countless pratfalls while they learned to take their first steps.

I don't remember when I first stood on my own two feet, but I do recall racing around the back yard, playing tag or cowboys and Indians. I'd crash to the ground again and again and jump up laughing.

When you're in your eighties you don't usually get up laughing. Often you don't get up. I don't need to look beyond my own family for examples of lives hastened towards their ends by falls.

When I orienteer I invariably end up on my butt, or some body part other than my feet, at least once on the course. I step in a hole, or trip over a vine or a stick buried in the leaves catches the toe of my shoe and sends me sprawling. My most spectacular wipe-out came on a rainy day when I tried to sprint across a wooden bridge while wearing plastic-spiked shoes. I've always got up -- not always laughing these days. I'm only fifty-seven. I expect I'll have no trouble getting up again this year, or for years to come, but at some point (ten years? Twenty?) I won't want to be falling down.

I don't look forward to the infirmities of old age turning familiar surroundings into sinister landscapes. I don't want to fear falling. I'm not sure how you tell when that time has arrived, except the hard way. I suppose we just need to enjoy getting back to our feet while we still can.

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