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  • Yesterday, I was working from a local café with wifi. They often leave the door open when it’s not too hot or cold outside. That’s why the sound of flesh and bone crashing into the sidewalk was so appallingly audible. I looked up and saw the body of a man face down in front of the door. He’d tripped on the curb as he walked to the entry and gone down fast with little or no ability to brace his fall with his hands. A number of us ran to him immediately. A couple of us told him not to move and he said he didn’t want to. That informed us he was conscious. I took my hand from his back and ran into the coffeehouse to get ice. A woman was calling 911. A man was putting a hanky between his face and the sidewalk. I returned with ice in a towel that we put under his face. By this time a pool of blood had seeped along the sidewalk on either side of his still-hidden face. I kept my hand on his back rubbing him. A stocky man in red shorts asked him numerous questions to determine where it hurt and whether he was disoriented. Maybe he was a doctor though he didn’t dress like one, or maybe he’d watched EMT’s at work before. The face-down man gave his name and his age with muffled, but deliberate words. He was 81 years old.

    At one point the EMT-type guy told him it would probably stop bleeding if he’d be willing to let us turn him over. The injured man agreed and several of us turned him. I averted my eyes from his face because I’m very squeamish about blood and was scared about what he’d look like. When I heard the EMT-type guy say that the bleeding had stopped and he just had a big cut on a probably broken nose, I looked at the man. I recognized him from other afternoons at the café. He was a dignified man with a steady gaze, a bit stocky with the extra padding of more sedentary days and afternoons in coffeehouses. He answered the various questions the EMT-type continued to ask as we waited for the ambulance to arrive. He said one unprompted thing, “I’m so embarrassed about this.”

    This business of falling seems to go part and parcel with being an octogenarian. My 84 year-old dad has had a few - one during a weekend I visited him. He’d implored me while still lying, scraped-up on the concrete, not to tell his wife. The humiliation must throb more than the pain.

    I'm pretty certain that in your 80's you still can take a deep breath and fill your lungs with vivid images of yourself as a dashing 20-something – newly married, playing ball on Sundays, snorkeling on exotic vacations. It's just that somehow decades have zoomed by as if somebody has held down the fast-forward button. Your body is starting its inevitable fade. It betrays you inexorably, after many decades of solid and dependable, uneventful service – and it’s just one of several arenas of loss and pain - heralding old age. You’ve arrived. You’re on the ground looking up, bloody, at a circle of concerned strangers. Suddenly there is no walk to the coffeehouse or round your own block that can be taken for granted. And as a kind stranger wipes blood from your face, you know that any six year old could have navigated that curb.
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