I tried to catch myself, but only managed to catapult down those steps like an awkward bouncy ball that rolled and bounced in a haphazard, unpredictable path for what seemed like an eternity. With every roll down those steps, I could hear the crowd gasp in a collective “ohhhhh” and could feel my dress ride higher up on my hips.
I was born with crooked legs. I am told I first learned to walk while wearing metal braces, very similar to those the main character wore in the beginning of the movie Forest Gump. Mama used to tell me I was “knock-kneed, pigeon-toed and bow-legged, with one leg longer than the other”, though I see no signs of any of those conditions today. Mama was known for her inventive exaggerations, so I am inclined to believe my sisters’ accounts of my childhood maladies, which are less interesting but a bit more believable.
In general, my sisters say I was bow-legged and wore leg braces meant to help the alignment of my hips and legs. I kicked my feet with those cumbersome, shiny, metal braces on and used them as weapons, inflicting great pain on anyone who dared to change my diaper. After about eight months or so I would cry at night, wanting the braces off. Soon after that I stopped wearing them altogether.
I think about the way that I first learned to walk every time I do it wrong now as an adult. Some of my most embarrassing moments involve my less-than-graceful swan dives to the floor, almost always in front of a crowd of people. I like to think of it as God’s way of reminding me to laugh at myself, something I find so easy to do.
One such event happened while I was working at Preschool Discovery Days at the First Baptist Church. I worked twice a week teaching preschool skills to three-year-olds, in between taking courses at a nearby college. At the end of the school year in May, was the evening graduation ceremony for each grade level. All teachers presented a hug and a certificate to each of their students on the stage at the front of the sanctuary, in between adorable songs sung by the children.
At first, the events of that evening went off without a hitch. Then it was my turn. Large 1990’s model video cameras sat balanced on tripods or held by watchful parents, as I hugged every one of my precious students and presented them with a brightly-colored certificate on stage. I stood successfully, and easily avoided catching my cream-colored pumps on my knee-length dress. It wasn’t until I approached the carpet-covered steps to the stage to begin my descent that every shred of dignity I imagined I possessed vanished. With one misplaced step, I tripped. I have no idea why I tripped as there didn’t seem to be any reason for it, none at all. All I know is in my mind time stood still, just like in the movies when the dramatic action occurs in slow-motion, and the main character can only hear muffled sounds. I tried to catch myself, but only managed to catapult down those steps like an awkward bouncy ball that rolled and bounced in a haphazard, unpredictable path for what seemed like an eternity. With every roll down those steps, I could hear the crowd gasp in a collective “ohhhhh” and could feel my dress ride higher up on my hips. As I neared the bottom of the steps, I could hear one lone voice among the gasping crowd–one male voice belted out a loud and steady “HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!” across the sanctuary. My journey came to an end and I leapt to my feet with lightning speed, laughingly curtsied, and then sat red-faced in my front row seat. I assured the crowd around me I was fine, all the while laughing with tears streaming down my face, imagining what the crowd must have seen. When the ceremony was over, the man who laughed at my fall was still laughing as he shook my hand. “Thanks for the laugh,” he said as he wiped the tears from his face. He pointed to the large video camera he carried. “I swear I could make a lot of money if I send this video in to one of those television shows.” He walked off, carrying proof of my indignities. I never knew what became of that video.
Fast forward fifteen years, when I was teaching senior English at our local high school. I was on my way to the front of my first-period classroom to take attendance, when my shoe caught on the strap of a back pack siting on the floor near the front of the room. I had been walking toward the whiteboard at the front of the room when I tripped, but somehow during my tumbling around I ended up facing the opposite direction, until I was staring straight at the students in my classroom. That fall also seemed to last forever, I bounced around like a ball in a pinball machine. I hit my head on the brick wall and was momentarily stunned, but then seeing the worried looks on my students’ faces I of course burst out laughing . “You can all laugh if you want–now that was funny!” I said, as several boys came to my rescue. To their credit, nobody laughed until I gave them permission, which must have taken quite a bit of discipline. Later that day a really sweet young man came to my room to check on me. He had been on the front row when I fell. “Man Ms. Muston, you fell FOREVER,” he said. “I didn’t think you were ever gonna stop!” Yeah, me either.
It was not one of my most graceful years, as later that year it happened again. One morning, before many of the students had arrived at school, I was walking briskly down the long, cream- colored tiled hallway with one of my co-workers. We were on our way to the library for a faculty meeting, and my co-worker was especially agitated that morning. She was ranting about the injustice of some educational reform when suddenly the side of my cute open-toed flats caught the tile and slipped, causing me to do this running man type move in an effort to keep from falling. I was doing the “Fred Flinstone” all over the hallway for an eternity before my feet finally went out from beneath me, and landed in a roll onto floor. My co-worker finally noticed I wasn’t walking next to her, looked back and said, “Karen, what are you DOING? Get off the floor!” as if I rolled around on the floor laughing on a regular basis. Well, I guess it seems I kinda do.
I am the first to admit that I laugh a lot, and sometimes in the oddest or most inappropriate situations. I learned early on that there are a lot of things that happen in life that suck the joy right out of us. If we can find the irony, the comedy in those difficult situations sometimes it makes difficult, embarrassing moments much more bearable. We just can’t take ourselves too seriously. I am thankful I overcame the physical limitations with which it seems I was born, and that I have two working legs and that I can usually put them one in front of the other. On the days that I can’t, I just have to laugh.