Elizabeth Davies: We all fall -- how do you get up?

Elizabeth Davies

I swear, I did not want her to fall.

But I will admit that, the minute I read an Internet story about Miss USA taking a tumble at the Miss Universe pageant, one thought popped into my mind:

“Oooh, please let there be a picture!”

Why do we love to watch others fail? Why is it so easy to feel superior at someone else’s misfortune? Never mind the fact that I’ve never tried walking in an evening gown and heels before a worldwide audience — and let’s just say up front that it wouldn’t be pretty — I immediately was guilty of thinking that this pageant queen couldn’t even manage to put one foot in front of the other.

As it happened, there was a picture with the story. It showed Crystle Stewart of Texas, during the evening gown portion, with her rump precariously close to the floor.

But when I looked closer, there was something in the picture that stood out more: Her grace.

If you’ve had the privilege of seeing me take a tumble, you will know that grace is not part of equation. It’s a feet-skyward, arms-akimbo, packages-and-papers-flying situation. Years of ballet training taught me the kind of balance that prevents most falls. But when they inevitably happen, they’re bad.

I’ve also taken my share of public falls. That’s just part of the deal when you’re a competitive figure skater. I’ve done nosedives in front of audiences and flopped on my backside in front of judges. I even had one performance during which I spent more time sitting down than I did skating. I didn’t even have to stick around for the results to be posted afterward.

That’s why I can wholly appreciate the inner grace Miss USA showed when she fell with a smile. She had a quirky grin on her face, even at a time that must have been humiliating and devastating. She also managed to keep her knees together in what otherwise could have been a fairly risqué fall, a move that is impressive in itself.

Rockford’s own Janet Lynn was famous for her grace, for smiling even when she fell. Now decades later, she is remembered for her character as much as for her skating.

Miss USA’s unplanned stumble may have cost her the pageant title. But more importantly, it offered a reminder that inner strength is far more worthwhile than outer beauty. Anyone, with the right training and practice, can learn to walk a runway. And anyone — despite all their training and practice — can fall at any time.

We’re human. We’re going to fall.

The true mark of our character is how we get up.

Elizabeth Davies writes a column for the Rockford Register Star.