For most people the new year begins Jan. 1, New Year’s Day. But most of my life, the new year began the first day of school. And for most of my life, I managed to bloody or at least bruise my knees right before opening day.
My mother spoke of her annual embarrassment when she delivered me to my primary classroom. I was always clad in a brand new school dress, my hair was combed in Shirley Temple curls, and my knees were carefully bandaged.
Fortunately I usually healed quickly. By the time I was in high school I would fall early enough so I could appear the first day of school with scabs on my knees instead of bandages. Also fortunately, skirts were long enough nobody could see my knees anyway.
My senior year in college I reversed the procedure. I didn’t go to school with damaged knees. I believed the hex was broken, or I had finally overcome my childish clumsiness. I didn’t fall until almost the end of the school year, and then I fell up, not down.
One minute I was running up the steps to my dorm room, the next minute I was stretched out full length on the steps. I didn’t bloody or bruise my knees. I rose to a new level in keeping with my higher station in life. I broke my whole foot and graduated from college with the appropriate black academic gown, the mortarboard with tassel in the proper position, and a white cast from my toes almost to my knee.
It was apparent I was not going to make my way through life with much grace. I hoped I would eventually overcome the appearance of clumsiness, but not so.
The year I returned to teaching I made the mistake of wearing new shoes one of the first days. As I crossed the street in front of the school, the slippery soles went out from under me. I wished I’d landed on my knees this time. I sat down very gingerly for several days, but at last there was no evidence of the fall visible to anyone.
The only time anyone really witnessed any of my falls from grace, or gracelessness, was several years ago in the Cincinnati Convention Center. I was on my way to introduce a speaker at a seminar for educators. I apparently flew too low and made a crash landing in the midst of the main hall before an audience of several hundred educators.
There was noise when I took off, but my landing brought silence, and any student can tell you it isn’t easy to stop teachers talking. I lay there on my face hoping no one I knew saw me. Then I prayed fervently the floor would open up and swallow me because it was too late to jump up like nothing had happened.
By then security people were all around me, and I realized they were more scared than I was. I toyed briefly with the idea of summoning an ambulance and leaving on a cloud of sympathy, but once I got my breath back I just gathered up my bruised body and went on to the seminar and introduced the speaker.
School began this week, so last week, true to tradition, I fell. Nothing fancy this time. Just a standard old fall up the cement steps that lead to our front porch. In addition to the usual bruised knees, I managed to get a goose egg above my eyebrow and a fat lip. Maybe this was the grand finale of my fall for schools.
Oh well, I may be short on grace, but I do have lots of hope