by Michael Angerer
In the beginning was the Fall: drawn down by the implacable forces of nature, down tumbled the apple and down tumbled humanity, Adam, Eve, Newton and all. Ever since, we have looked upwards in expectation of that which is beyond and above our mundane existence: divine inspiration, the fire of Mount Olympus, a guide as we flee the burning city of Troy. In this world we have constructed, up is the way to go: we overcome problems, rise above limitations, aim for that higher mark, desperately hope that there is still room at the top. But the laws of nature prevent us from going too far in our flights of fancy and, defeated, we sink back into our chairs; little wonder, then, that being downcast feels so natural.
As you look up from your personal sorrows and find that the sun has come out from behind the clouds, let your gaze sweep slowly upwards: past the princesses at the top of their towers, past a beautiful falcon trailed by two eagles, up to the spot where the light turns the firmament radiant and clear: up there, imagine the Celestial City. We have become used to externalising our desires; achieving bliss, it seems, means leaving our lowly earthly station to build castles in the air. There we will find a high table for High King Joy, there we will be in truly high spirits and feel truly exalted. The division is clear: down here, we, the dreamers; up there, our dreams; and a long steep climb in-between.
The alternative to the climb is despair: enter, all ye who abandon hope. Watch as a shallow depression in the ground deepens, becomes a gaping abyss that leads down to the lowest and gloomiest circles of Inferno, peopled by low spirits. Refuse to climb upwards and you will lead a life of darkness and obscurity, far from those on the up and up; the more angel they, and you the blacker devil. You have sunk too low to see the starry skies; your dreams are twice as far away. Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light.
Yet falling must always be easier than flying; even on the cusp of victory, we feel the mass below us calling, and, cursing, we slip, slide and obey the Law of Gravity. We see goals and deadlines blur as they flash past us on our way to meet reality. But we do not fall forever. When we reach the ground, Earth stands between us and despair. This is the moment to get back on our feet and stand up for ourselves; this is the place from where we can survey the entire spectrum of our hopes and fears: the best of times, the worst of times. A fall is the opportunity to step back, pause, and re-enter life. We fall and are reborn just as Hopkins’ blue-bleak embers fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.
It may seem cruel at first to be torn from our dreams to land, crestfallen, back on earth; but remember, we live here and not among the clouds. This is the place, as Terry Pratchett has it, where the falling angel meets the rising ape. We cannot lead our lives wholly in darkness or in light; here is the place that is down-to-earth and full of common sense, far from the illusory promises from above and the horrors from below. To fall is to return to your ancestral home; to have the time to turn over, lean back, and peacefully gaze up at the stars.