The Rise and Fall

onathan was 15 years old when he went to live with his grandfather, a man he loved and respected. Having survived a horrendous childhood in Virginia, Jonathan felt himself lucky to be able to exit the traumatic life he was living even though he had no idea of what would happen to him next. He was just a kid. The grandfather raised Jonathan on his farm under his loving and watchful eye over the course of the next 7 years until the grandfather's untimely death in 1969.

The grandfather was kind to Jonathan in his will, leaving him the farm and the four horses who the boy had come to love and care for. Overcome with grief, Jonathan's sadness and loss would be temporarily replaced with the memory of what his grandfather had done for him and the sudden stability he enjoyed as a result of acquiring the farm. In spite of the grandfather's death, Jonathan began to enjoy a sense of peace about the events of his life until one day about a year later, while in the barn, he accidentally spooked one of the Appaloosa horses who kicked him in the leg so badly, he was knocked unconscious where he lay for several hours. A neighbor who happened to be out riding by the barn on the way to the house to drop in and say hello, heard moaning coming from inside the barn.

As the weeks passed things went from bad to worse and Jonathan's right leg was amputated, leaving him once again to ponder the ill fated path of his life. For months he felt abandoned, alone and damaged. Before long, he received a prosthetic leg and began riding his horses again and tending the farm. Time passed by.

Two years later in 1971, hobbling around in despair and regret, a letter arrived announcing that he was being drafted to go to Vietnam. His broken heart suddenly turned to joy, realizing that he would not be going to war. He felt so fortunate. "I may only have one good leg but at least I'm alive," he thought.

In church several weeks later, dressed in a suit and wearing one of his grandfather's ties, he caught the eye of a pretty, young woman whom he had seen from time to time at the farmer's market. It was as though they fell in love at first sight. He was filled with hope and anticipation of the next day to be with her, to see her. The daily time with her over the next few weeks caused him to imagine a new future, a family, a sense of purpose and belonging.

In the back of the barn on a beautiful warm country evening, the adventure came to an end when the young woman felt repulsed at the sight of his leg, saying, "I love you but I can't do this."

Downward he fell, spending the next months in isolation and shame. "Why me? How could this have happened to me? I will never be happy. I will never be what I want to be. I will never have what I want to have." The years passed by and the pain began to show in his eyes and on his face.

Deciding to start a new life, he sold the farm for a handsome figure and prepared to move to the coast of North Carolina to become a fisherman. He was suddenly excited about the new start, momentarily forgetting  the past.

The excitement was soon replaced by the humdrum of daily life, of repair and habit. Days would pass when he could not even recall seeing the water, so engulfed was he in his mind and the shadow of days past. He was living in a beautiful home that overlooked the intracoastal waterway with a beautiful shiny boat docked not far from his backyard but he was the same. Nothing had really changed.

One afternoon while leaving the inlet behind, the shore to his back, to head into a calm day on the ocean to fish, he was only two miles into the day when the engine suddenly died, leaving the boat rising and then falling in the warm swells of the gulf stream.  But with shore still in sight, he popped another beer and sat back to relax, feeling the effortless going and coming of the southern current.

"All my life, I rise and then I fall," he thought, feeling the swell lift the boat up and then releasing it to gently fall again. "All my life, I have had ups and downs. I am overjoyed by the ups and I am devastated by the falls. I am no different than my boat. But the fall always follows the rise and the rise always follows the fall. What contracts, expands. What expands, contracts. There are good days, then are the unbearable ones. I have lived at the mercy of the current."

And in that moment he saw the inescapable truth. "The ups and downs are wedded to one another. They are supposed to be together. Just as I lost my grandfather, I gained a fortune. Just as I gained a fortune, I lost my leg. Just as I lost my leg, I gained my life. Just as I gained a love, my love left me. An now, my love having left me, I see that love awaits me. It could be in the next moment, the next second. So, I will not live this way anymore. I will see the down as a doorway. I will see the fall as the blessing for which it is intended. I will never fear death again and I will live as I choose to live, be what I choose to be, have what I choose to have. I will use the falls as sails to a new tomorrow and the ups as a reminder of the blessing of being alive. Had the engine not failed, I might never have taken the time to be still, to reflect, to see what I have never seen before. It is the water that rises and falls...not me." And in that moment he was free from the regretful past, released from the worrisome future and breathed the salty air from head to toe. "How wonderful my life is. How lucky I am to be me. How amazing, the rise and the fall."

Once home, chores done for the day, he sat out on his open-air porch, relaxing, enjoying the late evening, watching the setting sun disappear. Suddenly, he heard the doorbell ring. Not expecting anyone, he walked through his quiet home and opened the front door.

 

Ashleigh Stoia