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Working Professionally with Children and Youth in Care
CYC-Online Issue 131 JANUARY 2010 / BACK
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Embrace the Red Face

Nils Ling

It was one of those stories that they toss in at the end of the news to give us all a little giggle.

The story involved a guy who was vacationing at some hoity-toity ski resort in the States, got on the ski lift, and the seat wasn’t working properly. He somehow slipped off the seat as the lift started, and both his ski and his pantleg got caught. Long story short, he spent about 15 minutes dangling upside down in full view of hundreds of fellow skiers, ski pants down (or, I suppose, up) around his ankles, his ... er, moguls fully exposed.

On the one hand, you feel for the guy. I mean, that can’t have been a pleasant experience, suspended by one foot, high up in the crisp, clear mountain air, with crowds of curious onlookers snorting, giggling, and snapping pictures with their cell phones to post on the Internet. The physical discomfort aside, if you’re a guy and the world is going to see you in that exposed state, you’d rather it not be cold outside.

So it was inevitable that, at the end of the story, there was a line or two about a pending lawsuit. Such are the times we’re living in.

We've all been embarrassed at one time or another in our lives. I have a friend who once stepped out of her shower in mid-morning and decided to stop and check her email before running upstairs to get dressed. As she rounded the corner to her living room, completely naked, she came face to face with a guy – a family friend – who had popped by to pick something up and, seeing the door open and his parcel in plain sight, had just come in rather than trouble anyone.

I’m fairly certain this fellow hadn’t expected to come face to face with an attractive naked woman that day. And from all accounts, he handled the situation as gracefully and sensitively as one could. But my friend was, of course, mortified.

She hates it when friends bring the story up. She describes it as is a moment she would just as soon forget.

I think that’s exactly the wrong attitude.

When I was fourteen years old, I went swimming with my gang. Included in the group was a girl named Cindy, who didn’t know I existed. I was determined to change that.

The pool had a high diving board, and when I was sure everybody was looking, I stood on the edge of the board and prepared to execute my patented backwards swan dive. I knew that dive was a thing of beauty, and had done it hundreds of times.

But in my determination to impress Cindy, I overshot the dive and landed belly first with a loud, gruesome splat. I floated face down in the pool, unable to move or breathe, until the lifeguards dove in, flipped me over, and dragged me out onto the pool deck.

I lay there gasping like a carp as they determined I was just fine, except for the vivid red mark that stretched from my chest to the place where, in a perfect world, my bathing trunks would have been, had they not been at the bottom of the pool.

So I’m pretty sure Cindy noticed me, alright.

The thing is, I love telling that story, even if I come off looking a little dumb. It is even possible I may have embellished it over forty-odd years. Yes, I was embarrassed, but it’s not a fatal condition. Nobody really dies of embarrassment.

I think we need to embrace those moments when we end up looking a little silly. We are the only species that can blush from embarrassment. Let’s own that.

If I were the judge in that unfortunate skier’s lawsuit, I’d say, “Pal, on that day, you got a gift. If that hadn’t happened to you, if you’d just had a pleasant day skiing, people would yawn and roll their eyes if you started to brag about it at a party. They’d slowly edge away from you and make for the cheese dip.”

“Instead, you got a story that is better than any story at any party you'll ever go to. Years from now – no, decades from now – people will still beg you to tell them about the time you found yourself upside down, dangling by one ski, with your butt hanging out in the air. Your grandchildren will come to visit you at the old folks home just to hear that incredible story. And you want money for pain and suffering and humiliation? You should pay them.”

“Case dismissed. Now, if you'll excuse me, I’m going to drop by my friend's house. It’s a warm day and you never know what you might see.”

This feature: From Nils Ling’s book Truths and Half Truths. A collection of some of his most memorable and hilarious columns.

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