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Rev. Eleanor Harrison Bregman Headshot

Handling the Fall

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I am a terrible blamer. I came face to face with this today.

After I dropped my three kids off on the camp bus near our house, I took off on an early morning bike ride in Central Park. As I started to ride, I did what I sometimes do when I am not on the city streets worried about cars. I pulled out my iPhone, went to the homepage of a church I used to attend in Savannah, Ga. -- Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church -- and pulled up Rev. Billy Hester's sermons that I had missed over the last few weeks. There are two sets of sermons to which I regularly listen: Billy's and David Ingber's, the rabbi of Romemu, a synagogue in NYC. Perfect time for some spiritual sustenance.

As I started to pull up the home page of Asbury, I realized I was doing something a little dangerous, the equivalent of texting while driving. So I pulled over, silently congratulating myself for being a safe rider, pulled up the sermon from June 17, and began my ride to the sound of Billy's booming voice and a message about how the most amazing things can develop from the smallest actions, from the smallest seeds as it were, that all we have to do is listen to what we are called to do in the world, give it a try -- no matter how small or insignificant it seems -- and trust that God will grow something special from that seed.

As I was coming down the steepest hill in the park in the bike lane on the left side of the one way road, I began to veer left onto the 100th Street crossover to do the Harlem Hill loop for a second time. Another biker had come up beside me on my left, and I veered right into him. While he was able to ride out the impact of my hitting him, I was completely off balance and fell first into him, then onto the pavement. I skidded to halt, feeling the skin ripping along my back.

"You all right?" I called to him. At least my first instinct was to check on his well being.

"Yeah. You?" he replied. He approached me with his hand and helped me up. I could feel the burning on my left shoulder blade. He must have seen it because as he helped me up he said, "Are you sure you're OK? It looks like you've really gotten scraped up."

"I'm OK, thank God." But what I was thinking was, "Was that my fault or his fault? Do I owe him an apology or does he owe me one? What the hell was he doing passing me on the left?! Ummm, what the hell was I doing listening to a sermon while biking, and not looking back before I turned?!"

What I said was, "Well, no sense in assigning blame I guess, but that'll teach me to listen to sermons on my bike. Wow, I had now idea you were there. Guess you shouldn't pass on the left either, huh?"

"Are you sure you are OK?"

"I'm fine. I am. Just shaky. I'm going to just sit here and calm down and be thankful I'm not more hurt."

"Can I call someone for you before I go?"

"No, really, I'm OK. Just need to sit for a bit."

As he rode off I was thankful he didn't engage my passive aggressive attempt to figure out who was wrong and why. He was simply concerned with whether I was OK. He didn't seem to expect an apology nor did he offer one. But I am shocked at how much I wanted to work out who was right and who was wrong and what we each did that was a mistake. I wanted to get right into it with him, and the only reason I didn't is because I am afraid of expressing anger at just about anyone.

I headed home, slowly, iPhone and headset tucked far away from my ears. I shed many tears. Mostly tears of relief, some of pain, and some as I imagined showing up at home, falling into my husband Peter's arms, and asking for help to undress and clean the wounds. Which is exactly what I did. I couldn't stop crying as he drew a bath and gently -- but not painlessly -- cleaned the abrasions of all of the dirt and pavement pieces. I cried then not because of the pain but because of the tenderness of his care at the most vulnerable moment I have had in months.

Somehow I want to connect the little seeds of this morning's experience to some beautiful future growth, bring it back to Billy's words, tie it all up in a nice neat bow, but I don't have the wherewithal to connect all the dots right now -- and while I trust that in recognizing an icky part of myself there is such a seed, I wonder just what beauty will grow from it. All I really know right now is that in my fellow rider's not blaming me or himself, in his concern for my well being, and in Peter's gentle cleaning of my wounds, I feel thanksgiving welling up in me and bursting forth in another torrent of tears -- for my life and for the great Mystery that I trust holds us all and all parts of us: the thanker, the helper, the poor decision maker, the crier, the wound cleaner and yes, the blamer.