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Climbing

I am not very brave. I’m not William Wallace or Sacagawea or Sojourner Truth. Nor am I even a member of the Star Trek crew, going boldly off who knows where. I’m more like, say, Piglet, extremely conscious that I am a Very Small Animal in a very big world.

But over the weekend I went rock climbing. Sure, it was inside and I was safely hooked up to a harness and rope and the floor beneath me was pleasantly bouncy and squishy (hey Brent, can we have one of these floors at home?), but I climbed way up high. My friend Paul is good at it, although he did not climb; he was the safety guy on the floor end of the rope while T. and Syd and I in turn climbed up the walls. It was nice of him.

I learned a lot about fear and faith. Since I had never done any climbing before, I wasn’t even sure I could begin to do it. I mean, I’m a sedentary, overweight woman of 41, not some young, strong, power-barred person with shorts that have lots of pockets and specialized shoes who runs up mountains for fun. I took a deep breath and went anyway. I could at least entertain the kids with my failure and, with luck, wouldn’t break any vital parts. That was the first victory over fear.

T. went up the wall first. I saw him manage to grip the holds. I saw him consider his next moves. I saw him survive. I also learned that it’s good to know how to get down before you go up. He managed beautifully.

When it was Syd’s turn, I paid attention to how the harness attached to the safety rope. He, too, survived the climb and the descent. Confidence surged, buoyed by some experiments on the bouldering walls nearby.

My turn. I went. My feet found places to rest. My fingers clutched at holds. I tried to remember to lift with my legs as much as possible. About three quarters of the way up, I looked down to ask Paul a question and discovered that was not the wisest choice. I kept going. I made it to the top, my rope inching its way through the pulley at the top. The pulley has some kind of mechanism that cinches the rope more tightly as the climber gets higher. I felt reasonably secure.

My next lesson on fear came near the top of the wall on a different route. If I could just go up one more series of holds, I would make it to the top. My left foot had a good purchase. My right foot needed to push off of a slippery spot. My right hand clung precariously to a teensy little hold and my left hand needed to let go of its nice safe hold to reach for the next one far above my head. I am severely right-handed and right-footed. My legs and butt and arms were tired. They began to shake as I tried to steel myself to push upwards. I tested that right foothold. My foot slipped. Paul encouraged me from below. He said that it would be all right in the moment. He reminded me that the rope was there.

I believed him. I could see and touch the rope. I knew that if I slipped I would not really fall. The rope would hold me. My friend would keep me safe. And yet I could not bring myself to do it. My muscles, strained with the effort of staying perched there, trembled. I said I needed to come down. My heart pounded for a good while even after I was on the ground again.

No wonder fear is so powerful. When my own body is not convinced by the evidence right there in front of me that I am safe, how can I be surprised when my faith in things I can’t see is not enough to move me forward? I will need to learn to let the rope catch me.

In the meantime, I tried another route up the wall and made it to the top again. If I keep doing it, I will get stronger and less fearful. Eventually, I will fall and I will survive thanks to the rope, the pulley, and the friend on the ground. Good things to keep in mind.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
generalist
Sep. 7th, 2009 03:16 pm (UTC)
Hi Jan,

Lovely! Congratulations! Facing fear is instructive, but that's because fear is there for a reason. It, too, is instructive. It's experience plus genetic heritage telling us about risk. Worth listening to, and also worth discarding when we know better. You know all of this.

Were you at Ironworks, or somewhere else?

Cheers!
jan_can_too
Sep. 8th, 2009 04:42 pm (UTC)
Nope. Planet Granite in Sunnyvale with Paul and Elizabeth and Opal. But I think I'm going to try Palladium here on the island next... ;)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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