water falls, human flaws...

i fall. a lot. and often, this happens as i am either descending or ascending stairs. so i guess subconsciously i don't want to waste a fall on just any old flat surface. if i'm going to fall, it's going to count. that's also perhaps why i fall (a lot) in public. in public and at the mercy of strangers. strangers who, without fail, have been kind, have helped me up, and have let their gaze linger long enough to be sure that my hobble evened out into a steady walk. such an occurrence happened this evening as i was switching from the r-train - after an obscene and fruitless wait for the n- or q-train at the canal street stop - to the 2-train. i was ascending the stairs from the r when, two steps from the landing, i slipped - apparently on concrete! - and all at once banged my right toe/knee/elbow/other elbow/other knee. i only know this because of what hurt afterwards, and based on these injuries, can only imagine what a graceless mess i must have looked like. it probably didn't help the scene as i popped back up and it was a few seconds before i realized that a kind man was steadying me by laying a hand under my right forearm.

he asked me, "are you all right? you sure?" and i nodded, hurriedly, muttering, "thank you, thanks so much." and, in an almost paternal way he, who didn't appear to be much older than i am, encouraged me to "slow down, take it slow." but it wasn't in the condescending way people tend to tell each other to "slow down!" when they themselves are rushing and being a hazard to the entire free - and i use that word lightly in these odd times - world. it was more in the tone of one person reminding another that sometimes, you have to take it slow.

this relatively short moment in time caused me to spend the rest of my journey homeward in a reflective state and i focused primarily on the two hours i spent listening to presentations made by students enrolled in a career skills class in an alternative school where i do fieldwork for one of my research projects. the topics covered ranged widely: welfare, immigration, hip hop violence, corporate hustling, gay teens, black on black crime, and others... in attendance was the class, several other teachers and case managers, and a handful of students who participate in other classes throughout the program. it was an event marked with thoughtful critique, a spirited question/answer session following each presentation, and the courage to research and discuss complicated subject matter.

as i fell and stood up again, i thought about the presentations i had listened to and recognized that while falling is embarrassing, and while there will be people who laugh, there will also be people who will help you up. i thought about the alternative education programs i've been a part of over the last decade. corrections education certainly isn’t perfect, but in the past year i've spent time in two that work precisely because everyone has fallen and has been given the chance to stand again. during their presentations, these fourteen young men and one young woman stood tall behind a podium as their audience listened to and engaged them. and for a few minutes each, they were experts in their topic and commanded the attention of the room. these are the moments and triumphs that mark education beyond the traditional school walls, yet all too often we hear how young people must be feared, contained, and punished.

we all fall; some falls are more public, some are more long lasting, and only some of us are given a good hand to lean on as we stand back up.

*photo courtesy of yours truly

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