"Oh, yeah," I said smugly, standing on a revolving chair in order to pull pins out of some of the photos I had posted. "We knocked that one out of the ball park."
"Uh, Joe," my boss said, "that chair looks really unstable."
"It was a home run!" I continued, ignoring his warning. "Slam dunk! Touch . . ."
Suddenly I felt the chair upon which I was standing going into a full spin. I tried to grab something on the wall to stop the movement, but nothing would hold me in place. The spinning accelerated. I could feel myself teetering. I tried to leap nimbly from the chair, but let's face it -- I haven't done ANYTHING nimbly for 30 years or 50 pounds, whichever came first. My feet caught on the arm of the chair, and together the chair and I tumbled to the ground.
At this point in my memory of the event, everything sort of goes into slow motion. Mostly what I remember are sounds: the chair clattering on the ground; my boss chanting "oh no, oh no, oh no!"; my own muffled "whooooaaaaa!"; and the solid "thunk" of my right knee slamming into the thinly carpeted cement floor.
I stayed there on the floor for a few minutes, partly because my colleagues who were with me wouldn't let me get up and partly because somebody had somehow started spinning the room around me. I was vaguely aware that everyone in the room had gathered around me and was offering comfort, support and hand-wringing on my behalf.
"Don't move," one voice said.
"Stay down," said another.
"Do you think he broke his hip? My grandfather died after he broke his hip." I'm pretty sure this came from the group's 20-something, who was only thinking mathematically, like the trained engineer that he is: old guy plus hard fall equals broken hip.
Even in my foggy state, I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to die. But walking . . . the throbbing in my knees indicated that that was going to be a problem. Suddenly, a wave of shock-induced nausea suggested that I better get up and try moving toward the restroom . . . or else. So with a great deal of help and only a couple of semi-suppressed screams, I struggled to my feet and was relieved to find that movement was painful, but possible.
Thankfully, the nausea passed, only to be replaced with intense embarrassment. What was I thinking? I knew better than to stand on an unstable chair. And even if I didn't know better, my boss had warned me. I had no one to blame but myself. I made a choice -- a foolish one, but a personal choice nonetheless. I took a calculated risk -- and lost.
Unfortunately, I'm not alone in this risky inclination, am I? A lot of us do stuff when we know better. We ignore warnings and we make choices -- sometimes foolishly. And that's OK, I guess, as long as we take responsibility for our choices and learn from our mistakes. Pain, even when it is self-inflicted, can be part of a lifelong process of growing and becoming wise.
And a lot less cocky.