I recently watched the movie “Then She Found Me” directed by and staring Helen Hunt, co starring Bette Midler and Colin Firth. The storyline follows a New York schoolteacher who hits a midlife crisis when, in quick succession, her husband leaves, her adoptive mother dies and her biological mother, an eccentric talk show host, materializes and turns her life upside down. While it was the cast that initially grabbed my attention, the story was one that didn’t really make an impact for me until a few days later when certain parts of the movie kept jumping into my consciousness.
One of those was a story recited both at the opening and close of the movie.
There is a Jewish story, an ordinary Jewish joke. A father was teaching his little son to be less afraid, to have more courage by having him jump down the stairs.
He put his son on the second stair and said ‘jump and I will catch you’ then the third stair and said ‘jump and I will catch you’. The little boy was afraid but he trusted his father and did what he was told and jumped into his arms. The father put him on the next step and then the next each time telling him ‘jump and I will catch you’.
Then the boy jumped from a very high step but this time the father stepped back and the boy fell flat on his face. He picked himself up bleeding and crying and the father said to him ‘that’ll teach you’.
There is a Jewish story, an ordinary Jewish joke. A father was teaching his little son to be less afraid, to have more courage. ‘Jump’ he said ‘and I will catch you’ and the little boy trusted him and the little boy jumped. When his father caught him he felt filled with love and when he didn’t he was filled with something else, something more – Life.
My response to the initial story was shock and surprise at what I had judged as the somewhat harsh lesson that the father was teaching. I couldn’t see at that point how the lesson could be about courage and felt that what it was teaching the boy was perhaps how not to trust people.
After reaching the end and hearing the second version I was overwhelmed by the realisation of how important it is to teach people about falling or perhaps failing as we so often refer to it. Falling is what builds resilience, courage and determination. When we learn how to fall we also learn how to fly because it is in the process of falling that we learn, grow and feel what we need to feel to enable us to take flight.
The challenge then, as parents, friends and colleagues, is to teach people how to withstand and survive a fall rather than teach them how to fly. I know that my inclination, as with many of the people I know and coach, is to prevent people from falling, to save them from themselves, and the pain they may experience from the fall. It is a natural instinct to protect and nurture but it is also possible that in the process of saving someone from pain we are hurting them even more or simply delaying whatever it is they need to experience.
What I have come to understand is that I have to let people fall. When I see the fall coming I have to step back and allow life to play out in the way it needs to for that person no matter how badly I want to interfere. Perhaps more importantly, I have to allow myself to fall because it is through those very experiences that I will come to fully know and understand myself and everything that I have to offer.