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Learning to Fall

By Grayson Shelor, Phase I Fellow

In every battle between woman and weed, there comes a point when the balance shifts. Leaning back on muddy boot-heels, straining with all my might, it quickly becomes apparent that the battle has been both won and lost. In the next moment, the offending root ball will be raised to the sky, while at the same time, the gardener will end up on her posterior in the dirt --the world keeps us humble that way.

I’ve fallen a lot in the past year: I’ve fallen over protruding roots, coiled hoses, and once, memorably, from the back of a pick-up truck and head first into a pile of straw and sheep manure. I’ve fallen into the habits of running along a ridge line to watch the leaves change, and of breathing deep the comforting essence of forest soil.

I’ve fallen in love with a place, and a host of strangers who have become family, and the taste of fresh sugar snap peas, and the aroma of baking sourdough. And when I look back on all the things I have learned this year, it seems to me that pushing through my fears of falling, of failing, made each of them possible.

I grew up being told that I was fearless. And it’s true, I wasn’t afraid of heights or the dark, and while I don’t care for spiders, I am able to live in peace with them if they stay in their space and leave me to mine. But I am afraid of people, which, to my mind, invalidates all of that. Or, more precisely, I am afraid of people’s judgment: of taking chances and looking a fool. Fortunately, in the past few years, life has hit me with the antidote to that—toddlers.

Somehow, despite fleeing college after graduation with the expressed intent of avoiding teaching young children, I wound up with a succession of two year olds in my care; I learned so much from them.

The beauty of a toddler is that they respond to intentions, rather than results. With a very young child, there are no bad jokes, and no gawky dance moves. There is only joy. And when they fall, they bounce back up.

I’m not an expert, yet. I had gained ground and resolved to be socially fearless when I came to AMI. But, I’ll own the fact that in the first week, when I murmured along with Pat’s guitar, my heart stuttered when he challenged me to sing out where people might hear. Still, each time the song began again, I sang a little louder, until the time came when every Fellow was harmonizing together, and I couldn’t imagine our lives without the common thread of music.

The thing about overcoming fears is that one act of courage builds to the next priceless experience: Toward the beauty of walking through a whirling swarm of bees, and the crisp flavor of spring water drunk straight from the spring in a chipped porcelain mg, and to dancing with a flashlight through a starlit meadow, to daring the fireflies to match the pattern, and sliding through wet grass to catch a Frisbee with the people of Monterey-- cheering no matter which side scores.

Falling together and climbing back up as a unit makes even the mundane moments precious: wacky conversations over the compost pile; struggling to start fires; sunrises, and sunsets; and the trip down highway 601, where cows poke their noses from the mountain mist and hawks sail on thermals in the valley below: A fall from there, I’ve been told, would lead to rolling down the hill into the front yard of our strings teacher, Gretta. A soft landing, and a friendly face—what more could one wish?

As I write this, rain is tapping against the roof and the fire is crackling in the wood-stove. Most of the leaves have already fallen on our mountain, and snow is expected for the end of the week. Our dinner conversations have turned to the logistics of breaking a communal pile of belongings back into their individual components. But most of all, we’re focused on sharing: photos, songs, recipes, and memories. Sometimes falling teaches us the best things to hold on to.

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