Last Tuesday, I mistakenly decided to be cool. I walked out of the house in my snazzy, faux, black Hugo suit, a white shirt, and no tie. I was going to work, but I looked more like I was going clubbing.
I walked past my beat up, 1996 Honda Accord, strutted down the sidewalk, and walked down the street to catch the public bus. About fifty yards from the bus stop, I saw my bus go past the 7-11, make the stop, and then move on.
“Dangit!” I said. But then I noticed the bus had gotten stuck in the busy street traffic. I had time to run and catch up with it.
With only a moment’s forethought, I channeled James Bond, jumped over some shrubs, cut through the bank parking lot on the corner, and dodged past a car in the drive-through teller.
I sprinted toward the sidewalk where my bus was about to drive off; and just as I reached the street, I caught my foot on a uneven slab of pavement and went straight to the ground on all fours, ripping a hole in my suit pants and scraping the skin off one knee – right in front of one of the busiest streets in the city.
It Gets Worse
My hands and knee burned – and, of course, there was also my ego, which was horribly bruised by the thought of my fellow commuters roaring with laughter. But like a champ, I got up and acted like nothing happened, only to see my bus drive off. Rather than hold onto whatever shred of my dignity was left at this point, I chased my bus to the next stop – and I missed it again.
A different bus pulled up to the stop, so I got on, hoping it would catch up to my bus, which was now about a quarter of a mile down the road. My knee was now searing with pain and probably bleeding too, but I tried to play it cool, not pulling up my pants leg or turning around to see if the other passengers were quietly wheezing with laughter. Finally, I spoke to the driver.
“So, uh – did you see that?”
“Sure did,” he said.
When I finally made it to my office, I shut the door, eased into my chair, and pulled up my damaged pants leg. My right knee looked like it had been run through a meat slicer. My left hand looked like I had done push ups on a cheese grater. What a klutz. I started aching for a little sympathy from someone – my wife was the first and most obvious choice – but this was too embarrassing to tell even her.
A few minutes later, my wife called. I answered and almost immediately said, “You won’t believe what happened this morning.” So much for hiding it from her.
“That is horrible,” she said, sounding genuinely compassionate.
“Who knows how many people were watching me when I hit the pavement. I feel so stupid.”
“You’re not stupid,” she said. And so the conversation went until I got off the phone and picked at the hole in my pants.
When she called back later, I was still annoyed from my spill, and found myself getting testy with her.
“What’s your deal?” she asked.
I put on my pity-party-sulky-loser hat and said, “Look, I’ve got a bloody knee, a hole in my nicest suit, and my hands feel like I just ran a hot iron over them. I’m just not feeling one hundred percent, okay?”
“Aw, c’mon honey,” she said, “stop being such a cry baby. You don’t want to ruin your whole day over one little embarrassing moment.”
I would have argued with her, but I wisely said, “Yeah, you’re right.” And I was pretty much over it after that – I repeat: I’m pretty much over it. I think.
Tripping Through Life
After I got off the phone with my wife, I realized that I handled my plunge to the sidewalk the same way I handle any moment of profound klutziness – whether it’s putting my foot in my mouth or goofing up a task or dropping the ball as a husband. The same pattern follows every time.
First, I usually want to blame someone – maybe it’s the person who pointed out my flaw or was on the receiving end of my goof-up. In this case, I wanted to blame the sidewalk designer, the 129 people in commuter traffic who witnessed my circus act, and well, I wanted to blame my pants – yeah, I wanted to blame my pants for tearing. This tendency to irrationally blame probably isn’t healthy.
Second, I usually want to hide my klutziness. In this case, I wanted to hide from all the commuters who saw my swan dive onto the sidewalk; and I especially wanted to keep it from my wife, whose opinion means a lot to me. This prideful tendency to hide probably isn’t healthy either.
And last, regardless of my feelings, when I make a fool of myself, I immediately tend to tell someone who’s close to me. I might even share more broadly, depending on the gravity of the blunder. This unusual tendency to share my slip-ups is probably one of the healthiest things about me, and good things almost always come from it.
For one, I don’t feel alone in my embarrassment when someone is there to relive it with me and offer a little sympathy. Another thing is that it’s usually a relief to the person I tell – they realize they’re not the only part-time clown in the universe. It also puts the incident in its place, reminding me that it’s not the end of the world, that I need to stop being a crybaby, sew up the hole in my pants, and put some peroxide on the wound.
Next time you eat the pavement on your way to work, make a foolish mistake that hurts someone else, or ask a chubby – but not pregnant – woman when her baby is due, don’t go on a blaming rampage or try to hide your nakedness with a fig leaf. Tell someone who will help you put it in perspective. And if you don’t have someone like that in your life, share your story the next time you make a fool of yourself. It may go a long way to helping build that kind of friendship.
“If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him” (Ecclesiastes 4:10).