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Falling in Rio

I just came back from a five-week stay in Rio de Janeiro (pronounced “Hee-Oo dee Jan-A-ho” if you want to sound genuinely Brazilian).  My husband and I were mugged (don’t worry––he only got $10 off of us), I tripped and fell not once, but twice, right onto my very sore and swollen knees (from the arthritis), and then Marcel took a spill even worse than mine, leaving him with a nearly black thumb and scraped up elbows.  But it was all part of it!  Brazil is like that (for me anyway).  It tosses you around and tests your limits and you come home wondering how on earth you ever lived without it.  The United States feels like a sanitized soap bubble in comparison.

Rio is raw and poor, and the streets are covered in art and graffiti.  There are muggers and children––music and prostitutes––dirt and slums.  Bottled water is a must because the water isn’t safe to drink, but there are vendors who sell real fruit smoothies on nearly every street corner––as ubiquitous as a Starbucks is here.  The heat cooks you from the outside in.  The beautiful beaches are nearly drowned out by the six lane highway that you’re forced to cross to get to them, and then you get hounded by beach sellers screaming that they have acai and bikinis for purchase.  The ocean's waves can spin you around and snap your legs straight and scrape you against the sand and then spit you out, only to drag you in again.  I was caught running out of the water before another wave could suck me back in.  I was the whitest girl on the beach––the ghost of Rio de Janeiro––standing with my feet in the water for 20 minutes before gaining the courage to swim past the small tidal waves out to where they first begin to swell.  Timing was everything.
The two falls that I had traumatized me.  I have tried explaining this to people who don’t have the same knees as I do but they just stare at me––waiting for the traumatic part.  Let me explain: No one with “normal” knees would be phased by my trips-and-falls.  But my knees are different.  They’ve been through some stuff.  They are filled with fluid and swollen and inflamed.  They suffer in pain every day.  Poor knees.
The first trip-and-fall was in Copacabana.  The sidewalks are put together with small mosaic-like tiles, and sometimes there are little potholes that form.  As careful as I was, my foot caught in one of them and I fell straight down like an imploded building .  My foot went under my butt and then crumpled to the ground.  I let out an enormous scream.  A group of 20 or so people gathered around me.  My husband and a stranger carried me to the side of the street, thank goodness because the ground began to burn my skin from the sun.  I tried catching my breath.  I was sure that my days of walking were over.  I worried about my knee––like it was a baby that I accidentally sat on.
I went to the hospital, took an x-ray, and then left, crossing my fingers that my knee would heal.  I held onto my husband’s arm wherever we went.
The second trip-and-fall happened less than a week later in a beautiful cobble-stoned street of Paraty.  I let go of my husband’s arm for a mere minute, walking gingerly to the door to our hotel room while he went to reception to get our key, and down I went, this time falling on both knees.  Again I crumpled to the ground, only this time I didn’t let out a sound.  It was nighttime and the town was quiet.  No one was around.  All I could do was wait for Marcel under the stars.  I was in shock.  I had done it again; I had sat on the baby.  This time––surely––I’d never be able to walk again.  I couldn’t lift myself off the ground.  It was like I had been stunned.  Paralyzed.  Then I hear my husband’s voice and his footsteps running toward me, and that’s when I began to wail into the ground.  I watched my tears soak the cobble stone.  I drenched it in my tears.  He lifted me up and walked me quickly to the hotel room where my knee began to fill with fluid before our eyes.  The knee grew so large and tight that we thought it might explode.  Marcel suggested that he carry me to the toilet before we went to bed so that I wouldn't have to go later.

“I will set you down on the seat, and when you’re finished I will pick you up and bring you to bed.”
“From the toilet?” I asked, horrified.  I have admittedly just gotten used to the idea that he even knows I use the bathroom.
“Of course,” he said.
“No, thank you,” I said.  “Absolutely not.”
Thankfully I am experienced enough in fluid-filled knees to know how to sit down and stand up on one leg. 
The knee did not explode.  After a few days it healed.

It all seemed part of my experience in Brazil.  In America we have these things called cement sidewalks.  They are, for the most part, flat and devoid of potholes.  Boring.

So what does all of this mean?  What is the big deal about my falling in Brazil?

Well, it’s not the falls that means so much as the grandness of life that the falls made me see again.  I am just a tiny person in a great big world on a small planet within an infinite universe, tripping and falling from a crack in the ground.  Perspectives shift.  Rio shook me wide awake and I am reminded to explore again and keep my eyes open.  When we run on automatic we miss the life around us.  We accept our daily grinds as all being "part of it."  We accept each day without asking ourselves how we got there in the first place and if this is even the best choice for us.  Rio (Brazil) had its way of slowing me down and making me observe. And then the griminess of Rio disappeared, and all that was left was a beautiful city covered in paint and dirt and outlined by an ocean that connects us all to one another.  



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 27th, 2014 04:58 pm (UTC)
I just love to read most of what you write
Feb. 27th, 2014 07:17 pm (UTC)
Thanks Dad! My number 1 fan!
Feb. 28th, 2014 05:22 pm (UTC)
Human nature
"After a few days it healed."
Amazing what the human body--and spirit--can withstand.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )