I just finished my morning workout. I grabbed my keys and my coffee from the cubby hole shelf. On Saturday mornings, I tend to buy a small coffee from the gas station near the YMCA. It chills in the cubby hole and every once in a while, between sets, I walk over to get a sip. It’s one of my gym hacks. To leave the second floor exercise area, you walk pass a set of tall windows on your way to the stairs. Outside these windows, you can see behind the gym where there are tennis courts and a field where, when the weather is bright and ideal, one might see lacrosse, soccer and football teams practice. Today it was snowing and the concrete stairs near the windows were cold and slick. Only I couldn’t tell. As I took those first steps down the stairs, I told myself to be careful. I made sure I stepped right, that enough of my shoes were stepping in the middle of each step and that my heal would not hit the back of the step. I didn’t want to fall. Suddenly and mysteriously, as my left foot hit the next step, I stumbled. I thought This is gonna hurt. Instantly, my right arm shot out and my hand grabbed the railing. I was able to balance myself upright and prevent a painful fall. Had it not been for that railing fixed to the wall, I would have fell something awful. I stopped at the landing a few steps away to process what almost happened.
It seemed like something came out of the stairs and tripped me. It reminded of the Turf Monster in the National Football League. When an NFL player who’s running inexplicably falls, without ever being touched by a defender, it is said they’ve been tripped by the Turf Monster, a monster that comes out of the turf or grass and trips the players. I’m glad I was able to reach the railing. I had meniscus surgery years ago because of a fall in an icy barn. I didn’t want that again. And I don’t just mean the inconvenience of surgery. I’m 42. I’m at an age where an injury or fall immediately conjures up thoughts of finances and survival, phrases such as Will we be okay? Will I miss work? When will I recover, return to normal? Since this almost-fall, I’ve been to the gym many times and each time I begin to descend the stairs, I hold on to the railing. Maybe I’m being overly cautious. Maybe nothing will ever happen. Maybe I will slip one day and bang my old body on those concrete steps, twist my knee, tweak my back. I sure hope not. Ain’t nobody got time for that. But I realized, or rather, I remembered that life is really one big, ugly Turf Monster. Well, not all the time obviously but there are certainly times when everything seems to be going well and then something bad happens.
I met a woman a while ago, or shall I say, she yelled at me from her passing vehicle for the way I drove my big truck through a shopping center. Here I thought I was being courteous slowly driving around a vehicle parked along the curb where some teens were unloading. She didn’t like that. She didn’t know what I was doing. She might’ve thought I was being inattentive but I saw her the whole time. She must have thought I was going to hit her head on. In her rant against my driving, she said, “My husband died six weeks ago in a car accident! Watch where you’re going!” I felt horrible about that. I didn’t mean to trigger anxiety and hurt for a stranger but I did. Was that the Turf Monster? One second I’m all like, “Aren’t I courteous!” and the next, a woman is flipping me off and yelling at me. I didn’t care that she yelled at me. There were kids in her vehicle, her kids I assumed, and kids who just lost their father. Being right or defending myself mattered little in the moment.
If we consider life having the tendency of acting like the Turf Monster, it’s not a question of if things will go wrong or if life will trip us up, it’s a question of when. And when that happens, how will you react? In When Bad Things Happen To Good People, Harold Kushner writes, “The bad things that happen to us in our lives do not have a meaning when they happen to us. They do not happen for any good reason which could cause us to accept them willingly. But we can give them a meaning. We can redeem these tragedies from senselessness by imposing meaning on them. The question we should be asking is not, ‘Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?’ That is really an unanswerable, pointless question. A better question would be ‘Now that this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it'” (136)? Kushner argues that the question of “Why did this happen to me?” focuses on the past and the pain “and ask instead the question which opens doors to the future: ‘Now that this has happened, what shall I do about it'” (137)?
The bad things that happen are serious. The death of a spouse, a child or parent. Betrayal in a marriage. Divorce. Accidents. Disease. Terminal illness. The loss of a job, a career, a livelihood. There are many other examples both difficult and tragic. However, in terms of how one reacts to these events, there are ultimately only two options: get better or get worse. Life events such as these have the unique influence to pivot our lives in a whole new direction. And that isn’t always good. A person of faith could lose their faith. A once hopeful person can become jaded, pessimistic and bitter. Once positive perspectives shift to misery and meaninglessness. Anger, depression and isolation set in, deep. A house becomes a prison, a bedroom solitary confinement and life one long lethal injection. Of course, there is time for mourning. Things hurt, a lot and for a long time. We wouldn’t expect someone who just broke their leg to get up and run. One needs time to heal; and, a broken leg sounds like a walk in the park compared to other experiences. At some point, however, one needs to work towards healing. And work is going to look different for everyone. To make a very long and painful story short (and I do hope to fully tell this story at some point), healing for me after betrayal looked like forgiving, letting go of bitterness, exercise and relying on my faith. It was a completely messy process. I wasn’t perfect and I made a ton of regrettable mistakes. A lot of my progress was sabotaged by anger, bitterness, stubbornness, self-righteousness, depression, isolation, loneliness and an insatiable and reckless want to feel healed before I actually was healed. Emotions sometimes are the ultimate Turf Monster. Nevertheless, every time I stumbled and fell, there was the Lord.
“I keep falling,” I’d say. “It’s embarrassing.”
“It is a hard road.”
“It is,” I’d say.
“You want to keep going?”
“I do,” I’d say. “I still have a life to live.”
“It is a long road.”
“I know but you’re here. I’ll be okay.”
And I have been and you can too. Becoming a refuge for others in times of trouble is one redeemable quality of going through bad things. Come near. Share what you’ve learned. Be a port in the storm, a fixed railing someone can hold on to when bad things happen, when the Turf Monster rears its ugly head. Have big eyes. Notice who is just starting the path you walked and say, “I’ll walk with you.” It’s one way to answer the question, “Now that this has happened, what am I to do?”
Featured image attribution, “turf,” by Presidente was made available via Creative Commons License CC-BY-2.0. No changes were made to the image.