It’s not that I remember falling out of my car or hearing that small pop as I hit the ground. It’s the feeling of utter helplessness that I can’t forget, as my body tilted backward and my eyes found the sky. And I don’t remember how I got myself up and into the driver’s seat, with knees turned out the open door, and my wrist raised to reveal it bent unnaturally.
But I remember the bend.
It all happened early one Sunday morning. I should have been on my way to worship band practice, but instead found myself calling our keyboardist who happened to work in the medical field. In minutes she would arrive, wrap my wrist in an ace bandage, and whisk me to the emergency room.
How does a grown woman fall out of her car? Well, the whole fiasco involved a boot with loopy laces catching on the door clip in our Honda Element. (Yes, we still have the car. But I donated the boots. And, yes, I feel bad about that.) Breaking your arm as an adult is not only embarrassing but inconvenient. For two months, my life revolved around recovering, while much of who I was and what I did were put on hold. I focused on incision management, cracking eggs one-handed, and stretching until I cried.
I (literally) dreamed of getting back to my art studio, back to the drums on Sundays, and back to showering correctly. But life pivoted in unexpected ways after my fall. I would never wear loose-laced shoes again! But more importantly, my hand would never be the same.
When life flips like this, we tell ourselves if we can just get to the other side of the crisis, we can get back to normal. But, that’s not how life works.
It’s more like a pinball machine, with that little metal ball rolling along on its merry way until — WHACK — a paddle flicks out and knocks the ball in a different direction. And the ball rolls on just fine until the next WHACK.
We all have those WHACKS — the big interruptions in life when something knocks us in an entirely new direction and we are helpless to do much about it. Besides breaking my arm, my life was irreversibly interrupted by a miscarriage, a painful career change for my husband, and clinical depression, to name a few. I know you have your list, too.
Our monastic friends are teaching me about interruptions. I’m learning that in the monastery they keep time by bells that “interrupt” their activity to order them on to the next task. And, though the bells constantly disrupt events, they keep the monastic life in balance, with room for prayer, study, leisure, work, and meals.
“The bell is annoying,” writes Macrina Wiederkehr, a Benedictine nun, in her book, Seven Sacred Pauses. But, she also admitted, “The bell is good. I have learned to change the annoying sound of the bell into an instrument of invitation.” And she cautions us, “Hearing the bell and listening to the invitation are two different experiences.”
So friends — might we see interruptions as invitations, believing that sometimes good comes with what we cannot change or control? Br. Paul Quenon, in his memoir, In Praise of the Useless Life, writes, “My philosophy is to let the Lord teach me by interruptions.” Now, I am coming to believe it for myself. That, truly, interruptions can infuse our lives with meaning.
I look back to when falling out of my car knocked me like a paddle in a pinball machine. I ask myself, What invitation came wrapped in this interruption? In what ways did my soul expand while my arm sat braced and immobile? My months of recovery held the answers. For one thing, I learned that nothing in life is a given — our plans can change in an instant. Still, more importantly, I learned to receive help.
Life knocks us down sometimes. It just does. These unwanted interruptions alter our paths in painful ways. But interruptions can also be opportunities for growth and meaning. It is okay if we do not recognize the invitation at first. And it is also okay if we only understand it once we are out of the crisis. For, clarity comes when we trace the jagged lines of our lives and watch how we are shaped, what we learned, and how we expanded. These twists can do the work of God in us — if we let them — propelling us into unexpected places and, sometimes even, unexpected blessings.