Friday Falls & Fails

I had many years of back pain. My back deteriorated until it took a week of lying on the floor before I could function adequately enough to get around. The final bout began with just bending slightly to open a drawer. I fell to my knees and wasn’t able to move. Somehow, after an hour, I made it to the car and drove myself to a clinic, screaming all the way.

I was lying on the floor when my wife arrived at home. I ended up in the hospital for a spinal tap and MRI. Two days later I had back surgery. The neurosurgeon asked me if I had ever been in an accident, I said, “No.”

Days later, I started thinking about that question. “Have you ever been in an accident?” I’ve been in a bunch of accidents! They just weren’t the car-wreck type!

I’m sure throwing baseballs and snowballs as hard I could, any time I could, didn’t help. I couldn’t hit a baseball to save my life, but I could throw one a mile. I remember one game we were warming up and I was in the outfield. When I caught the ball I heard someone by the batter yell, “Watch this guy throw the ball!” One of my two memorable moments of baseball. Pitching wasn’t finesse, it was speed. All speed. Didn’t help my back.

We moved from the city to the country when I was in high school. My dad decided he was a rancher and bought some horses, about which he knew nothing. The first was my sister’s small pony. For some ridiculous reason, I decided to take the pony out for a ride. In spite of the fact my feet were almost resting on the ground when I sat on the horse, she took one step, bucked, and I flew off and landed flat on my back. The pony took off across the field. We didn’t find her until two days later.

I was running across the quad at college, wearing giant bell-bottom pants that could have hidden two small children. Running in those would have been enough, but I jumped to catch a frisbee, caught my shoe in the cuff of my pants, and landed in a heap. Hurts my back just to think about it.

Having learned how to actually ride a horse without getting thrown or scraped off, I welcomed opportunities to ride for many years. In one town where we lived, we had friends who owned a small hobby farm. On a Sunday afternoon, my friend and I went riding. We were out for about a half-hour and decided to head back to the house.

While we were riding I forgot one very important task. I didn’t stop and recinch the saddle. When we got out on the road, I let the reigns slack and whistled. My ride took off on a full run. About half way to the house she started heading for the ditch. I tried to turn her back, which she did, but I didn’t. The saddle slid off and I hit the ditch and tumbled. I lay there for a moment waiting for the pain to hit. It didn’t, other than feeling like I had just fallen off a running horse.

My wife was standing at the kitchen window and saw the horse run into the yard dragging the saddle. Then she saw me stand up in the ditch. Lucky. My back remembered that ride.

For six months, I drove a dump truck for an asphalt crew. I actually enjoyed the driving, but I didn’t often enjoy handling three-hundred degree asphalt. I climbed up on the box of my truck to pull the cover tarp to the back. When I tried to jump off, I caught my toe on part of the box and landed on the ground like a sack of potatoes.

Once when I was a pastor, our church rented a room which had a stage raised on several steps. As a service was about to start, I thought of something I needed at the back of the room. I tripped, rolled down the steps, and banged into the legs of two women sitting on the front row. Relieved I wasn’t hurt, I looked up into the faces of the two ladies. “Pastor, this is my friend, she’s here for the first time.” I reached up and shook her hand.

Being something of a very minor public figure in a small town provided opportunities to be remembered for things that go wrong. That is, if someone finds out about it. Like the time I showed up at a community Thanksgiving Eve service and didn’t realize until I arrived that I was the speaker. I just acted like I knew it all along went through with it as if I was well prepared. That was fun.

I was speaking at a friend’s church one time and while I was walking back and forth across the front of the church, just as I turned, a little kid sitting on the front row let loose with a loud burst. The metal chair he was sitting on amplified it like he had a microphone in his back pocket. I kept my cool, didn’t laugh, kept preaching. Later, when I told the pastor about it, he said, “Everyone probably thought you did it.”

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