Okay, so the literal translation from the German saying—one of many pieces of folk wisdom I learned from my first mother-in-law—leaves something to be desired. But stay with me. For those of you with some German, the original goes Die Strafe fällt auf den Fuss. Our equivalent proverb would be “As you sow, so shall you reap.” In other words, we’re talking about Karma here: cause and effect. The Hindu concept adds the idea of reincarnation. So, if you were a wife-beating husband in this life, for example, you might merit rebirth as a beaten wife. It’s kind of a cosmic camper-counselor day. The hope is you’ll learn not to abuse your spouse in your next life....
German sayings, to be sure, have an earthy quality about them. They cannot be compared with the sophistication and elegance of a French bon mot. Take for example this common one: Le plus ça change, le plus c’est la même chose. (The more things change, the more they stay the same.) Some of the ones I remember from Oma, my late German wife’s mother, include Katzenfell heilt (Cat fur heals.) and Das Haus verliert nichts (You can’t lose something in the house, or literally, the house doesn’t lose anything.) In other words, calm down. If you’ve misplaced something at home, relax. You’ll find it later.
So why am I writing a blog on this particular saying about punishment falling on one’s foot. Let me explain. Around five days ago, we here in Boulder were dealing with a sub-zero cold snap and three straight days of snow. As a former Chicago and Saint Paul resident, I was sure that it was too cold to snow. Wrong! Anyway, when one drives around in snow, icy build-ups form just behind your tires. Over the years I’ve been able to kick these upside-down mini-icebergs off. My fear was they might harm the tires. Well, I didn’t account for two important factors. When I lived in Chicago and St. Paul, I was much younger. And second, the sub-zero temperatures this time had turned the ice buildup into iron. Anyway, after three or four good kicks with my left foot, the mass was still there, as firmly attached as ever. My foot hurt a little but not much. The next day I limped but nothing earth-shaking. The day after that, however, when I got out of bed, I couldn’t walk. My left foot was red and swollen. I could hardly make it to the nearby bathroom. Thanks to this painful personal experience, my German language-and-culture learning did something that morning that I could not: it took a great leap forward. The punishment literally did fall on my foot. Ibuprofen helped me limp about that day, and the next day, fortunately, I was fine. But I’ve decided to use something other than my foot for this problem in future, or let a warmer day do the work non-violently for me. So, to reiterate, Die Strafe fällt auf den Fuss.