In 1989, TV watchers were introduced to Mrs. Fletcher. She was the elderly lady who fell in her bathroom, pushed the button on her LifeCall medical alert device and said pathetically, “Help, I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.” (Watch it on YouTube here.) Her acting was so overdramatic that the key line of the ad quickly became part of pop culture. It was mimicked in popular TV series of the day, such as “Family Matters,” “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and even “Sponge Bob SquarePants.” Stand-up comedians put their own special twist on the situation, always ending their sketch with the punch line, “Help, I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.” If you get bored reading this, you can binge-watch 48 different comedy video clips at this one on-line site.

The LifeCall Corporation was a little slow to realize that they had stumbled on something valuable, so it wasn’t until 1992 that they registered Mrs. Fletcher’s line with the U.S. Patent Office. By that time, they had missed out on most copyright financial opportunities because the phrase’s popularity had faded, so they gave the license up in 1999. However, a younger company, LifeAlert picked up the patent in 2002 and renewed the ad campaign with a variety of versions, which they have been running ever since. They’ve tried to make it more serious, with better scripts and better actors, to erase the memory of the fun comedy writers had with it during the eighties and nineties. But every time I listen to one of these ads, I still hear Mrs. Fletcher’s plaintive cry, “Help, I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up,” and I find myself chuckling.

But there’s a difference. When I first heard those ads, I was in my early fifties. I knew I was “over the hill,” but I was just barely over the hill and still feeling I was in my prime adult years. I didn’t really put myself into Mrs. Fletcher’s place. But now that I’m thirty years farther along on my journey down the hill, I realize that, at any time, I might slip and slide the rest of the way. Someday soon, I may feel as helpless as Mrs. Fletcher; “Help, I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.” Who’s laughing now?

What gives me genuine comfort and peace is that early in my life I prayed the ultimate prayer to God, “Help, I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.” As a young man, I recognized that I wasn’t capable of dealing with my life journey by myself. I remember one night, walking through the woods with a friend, we were exchanging brash young male tall stories of bravado, when suddenly the conversation turned serious. We found ourselves sharing with one another that we weren’t so smart, that we weren’t so tough, that we weren’t so good. Then we found ourselves praying to God, confessing our shortcomings and our sins, and asking for his forgiveness and his help through life. In a sense, I, personally, was praying Mrs. Fletcher’s prayer, “Help, I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.”

So, I feel pretty good about the slippery years ahead. I’m still wearing his EternalLifeAlert on a chain around my neck, and I’m confident that, when I cry out for help, he’ll beat the 911 EMS responders to my side.

— Pastor George Van Alstine