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neil gaiman quotes sandman

“Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections

I absolutely adore Neil Gaiman (as some of you may have already noticed), and his remarkable creation, Sandman. Today, I searched for this quote for some reason and looking at it, I realised how much I relate to it. It is a quote that speaks a fascinating underlying truth, a reality far greater than it seems.

To survive the fall and fly is what we all hope for when the fall is inevitable, to die in the fall and escape suffering is the alternative option, but there’s a third instance, when neither happens; you survive the fall but you lie there broken. Your mighty soul torn apart, your thoughtful mind messed up, yet your heart still beating. Your courage shattered, strength faltered, limbs numb, yet your heart still beating. Then the bruises start to bleed each time you remember the fall, and the scars start to hurt in a Harry Potter kind of way. You wish you didn’t survive or that you got to fly, but instead…..you are a scattered mess. I can understand the need for “all the kings horses and all the kings men” to come together to put broken beings together. It doesn’t matter how several hundred hooves can help put together a broken egg, you just want to be complete once again somehow, just like you were before.

But as Humpty Dumpty or his rescue army would have told you, once something is broken, its original shape is lost forever. No matter how well you try to fix it, how strong of a super glue you have or other sophisticated fixing material, it will never be the same; in the same way, once broken, we too will never be the same again. Signs of brokenness will show, evolve and ultimately will become a part of us. That’s the thing about the fall that doesn’t kill you – the survival will leave a mark. You will carry it on for the rest of your life; but it will be the reminder, the compass, the navigator, the escort, the chaperone, the mentor and the counselor. It becomes your northern star, guiding you away from cliff edges and roof tops, and it becomes the commander of your emotions, warning you, reprimanding you, urging you to move forward, retreat and surrender.

To me, being broken was being in the hinterland between the valley of death and the sky of hope. I spent a long time lying in the same position, wishing I had died and wishing I had taken flight. Sometimes your bones need not break, to feel crippled. I felt like I no longer could see, hear, feel or move, yet somehow I had to. There was no army in the world that could put me back together; I had to do it on my own. There are some missing pieces I still can’t find; maybe it is for my own good.

So you survive the fall, barely. You are broken but stitched up; not nicely too because you had to do it on your own. Then what? I realised that it was then my life really began. I got to see every part of me clearly when I was reassembling myself. I had to learn to move again, see again and hear again. Why did I need to learn to see and hear? I too thought that those things just are and just happened, but unless you learn, you will never see and hear the important things, truthful things, the valuable things, the things that you are meant to know. Don’t wait until “there comes a time when the blind man takes your hand and says: don’t you see?”

I realised that it was my fear of falling, which broke me badly. I was afraid I would be let go of and I was afraid to let go. Should I think that it was a mistake to have climbed in the first place? But like Gaiman says in Sandman: “it is sometimes a mistake to climb, it is always a mistake never even to make the attempt.” People disappoint you all the time but you get a say in who gets to do so. Sometimes I feel like a rag doll shredded to pieces and stitched back up. I feel like I have a stitched up soul, soldered strength and wooden courage, but amazingly I’m proud of my rag doll self. You survive the fall for a reason and we get to choose whether we make it a good one or a bad one. Pain demands to be felt and we have no choice but feel it, but it is our choice to make it either suffering or freedom – freedom from the shackles that bind us to the fear of losing, the fear of falling and the fear of breaking. And if you choose freedom, neither death nor flight will really matter. You wake up!