Life is more about getting up than it is about not falling. So my father commented once, long ago, when (of all things) we were watching figure skating.
It wasn’t just any figure skating, though, it was the return of Scott Hamilton after his battle with cancer. For those too young to remember, Scott Hamilton was an amazing figure skater who leaped to fame (literally) by perfecting a backflip on ice. He’d streak across the rink skating backwards at full speed and then suddenly—Pop!—amid a flash of ice digging toe-picks he was defying gravity, flying through the air backwards and flipping head over heels.
It was awesome!
The first time I saw it, it was literally jaw-dropping. I jumped off the couch pointing at the TV exclaiming: “Did you see that!”
In a way, it’s kind of too bad to have Hamilton’s whole career reduced (at least for me) to that one spectacular stunt, because his whole story his amazing and he has a long list of incredible accomplishments. He was adopted as a child, endured medical problems in his youth, almost had to quit figure skating when he ran out of money to continue training, but persevered through the difficulties and uncertainties to eventually become a champion—with an Olympic gold medal, four US Championships, and four World Championships among his many accomplishments. But as amazing as all those victories were, the icy acrobatics of the high-flying backflip was just so stunning that it overshadowed everything else.
But then, at the height of his fame, Hamilton got cancer. His battle against the disease left him so week he couldn’t skate anymore. He dropped off the professional circuit. His treatment dragged on and on, and people began to wonder, had he hung up his skates for good?
For a long time, it was an open question.
But then word came out that Hamilton had beat the cancer. He began working out again, trying to regain his strength and, perhaps, return to the ice. Then came a nationally televised professional figure skating competition, and Hamilton got a spot in the program to make his return. Our family tuned in (along with much of the rest of the country, I suspect), to see how he was, and, above all, to see if he could still do that amazing backflip.
When it was his turn, Hamilton came out smiling, and ran through a nice program full of well-executed classical figure skating moves—but no backflip. Until, at the very end of his performance, with everyone wondering if he could still do it, Hamilton began circling the rink, skating backwards, going faster and faster. The song playing as he made his way around the arena, gathering speed, was a hit current at the time: “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba. The refrain of the song repeats over and over again: “I get knocked down, but I get up again! You’re never gonna keep me down!” With those words blaring over the ice, Hamilton raced backwards, and with the whole country sitting on the edge of their seats . . . Bam! Toe picks dug in, ice chips flew, and Hamilton launched into the air in a soaring backflip! He did it! My brothers and sisters and I jumped up, pumping our fists in the air and cheering in celebration of his triumph.
It was really cool.
That was when my Dad (who is not a huge fan of modern music—then or now), commented: “That song, those lyrics are good psychology. You can’t go through life trying to avoid getting knocked down—that’s fear living. It’ll paralyze you. Now learning to get back up again, that’s a good life skill. Don’t be afraid of falling. Everyone’s going to take their lumps. The important thing is getting up again.”
Before that, the Chumbawamba song had never particularly registered with me, but after Dad’s comment, I went out and bought the CD, and always think of that moment and Scott Hamilton’s backflip when I hear its chanting: “I get knocked down, but I get up again! You’re never gonna keep me down!”
And from Scripture I learned that it’s not just good psychology, it’s good spirituality. The Bible tells us: “. . . a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again . . .” Prv 24, 16.
St. Francis de Sales said: “Raise up your heart after a fall, sweetly and gently, humbling yourself before God in the knowledge of your misery, and do not be astonished at your weakness, since it is not surprising that weakness should be weak, infirmity infirm, and frailty frail.”
In other words: we’re human, we’re weak, and failure happens. We can count most assuredly on set-backs, things blowing-up, our best laid plans going awry.
But we can get up again. As Saint Basil the Great said: “There is still time for endurance, time for patience, time for healing, time for change. Have you slipped? Rise up. Have you sinned? Cease. Do not stand among sinners, but leap aside. For when you turn away and weep, then you will be saved.”
We have today–though we may not have tomorrow, as St. Augustine reminds us: “God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.” But we have now. We can change, start over, try again.
A great quote from Oliver Goldsmith captures it: “Success consists of getting up just one more time than you fall.”
And real success, the only true success and the only success that matters in the end, is making it to heaven—becoming a saint. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta told us: “Saints are only sinners who keep trying.”
So take heart, listen to Mother, and get back up again to give it another go! Don’t let anything ever keep you down!
Copyright 2015 Jake Frost.
Art: “January” (early 1820s calendar print),Public Domain, via Wikmedia Commons