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January 20, 2004
I fell twice on the way to the train, my daughter tells me, it's really something out there. On the radio Sunday afternoon, Jonathan Schwartz told of seeing a four-person pileup on a New York sidewalk on his way to the radio station: four people, none of whom were walking together, knocking each other down one by one as they fell, all ending up together in a heap. Never saw a four-person pileup, he said, and I've lived here all my life. This was the first one.

You feel so foolish when you fall down. Even if it's on the ice. Even, I suppose, if three strangers go down with you. Foolish and vulnerable -- falling makes a person feel at risk, as if all the world's dangers had sent an emissary to knock on your door and give you a personal message: this world is a hazardous place. Be careful. Watch your step.

When I fall, I want there to be somebody to help me pick myself up. Falling when there's nobody around is one of the loneliest things that can happen to a person. It's you and your weakness, alone together there on the icy walk, you and your weakness struggling to stand again, stooping carefully to gather your scattered belongings, setting out alone again on the treacherous ice. You feel a personal sense of grievance: Ice is so stupid. Water has no business becoming a solid, you fume, as if by correcting it you could make a difference, and you long for spring.

Or, if spring cannot come, you long just to be inside. Even work is a fine place to be when it's falling-down weather. Even the hideous fluorescent lighting and the metal desks feel homelike, even the piles of work waiting on your desk seem welcoming. Yeah, come on in and let's get started, they say, this place may be a looney bin, but at least you can stand up.

Hint for those out walking on the ice: pop into a church if you pass one. Just for a minute. You will smell old books, old wood, decades of furniture polish. You will feel decades, perhaps centuries of the faithful, for whom the world was also a hazardous place, who all eventually succumbed to its perils. Look at the altar for a while. Sit in a pew, if you have the time, and breathe it all in for a minute or two. Give the day back to the God who gave it to you. It's all yours. So am I. I always have been. Take my hand.

We're really never alone when we fall down, no matter how deserted we may feel. There is always One who knows. If we manage to get to our feet, it is by the grace of that One.



Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;
Through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light:

Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.

When my way grows drear,
Precious Lord, linger near,
When my life is almost gone,
Hear my cry, hear my call,
Hold my hand lest I fall:

Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.

When the darkness appears
And the night draws near,
And the day is past and gone,
At the river I stand,
Guide my feet, hold my hand:

Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.

Words: Thomas A. Dorsey, 1932. Dorsey wrote this song in Chicago, Illinois, after his wife Nettie died while giving birth to a child (who also died shortly thereafter). Dorsey sang the song for his friend, Gospel singer Theodore Frye, and Frye’s choir sang it the next Sunday at the Ebenezer Baptist Church.
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