It felt like insanity. Falling from 5 stories above the ground. Maybe it was 3, or 10. It really didn’t matter. Because what I was doing felt insane.
Between me and the ground was nothing but mere air. And as I left the ledge I couldn’t get that mere air into me. Those first seconds felt like drowning.
I was on a day-trip-adventure to Young Life Camp, where a group I’d worked with was having their week of summer fun. Activities were endless from playing in mud, driving dune-buggies, riding the big-swing, and “blobbing” into a lake. We laughed, danced, sang, and shared Skittles. There was silly girl talk about boys, arts and crafts, paddling across the lake in canoes, and resting in hammocks.
After many settled into afternoon siestas, my friend asked, “Do you want to see the ropes course?” Oh yeah! No need to ask. This I wanted to see.
We hiked the path up to the course as my friend told me of the kids’ experience on the ropes the day before. What makes it all the more incredible is that this specific group I was with—these kids—are mentally and often physically disabled. And they did it. The ropes course. Each and every one of them.
One boy who’s lost inside his world, feared heights did the entire course. Another who couldn’t walk was strapped tandem onto another leader. I still can’t figure out how they did it. Just knowing they did the course reminded me of how amazing these kids—and their encouraging leaders—are.
Note to self: there are no limitations to what we can do—even if we’re disabled.
The course is full of monkey bars, tight ropes, balance-beam logs, and more all 40 feet up in the trees.
At the end of the course—still up in the trees—the safety line attached to your stomach/chest is removed and replaced with a rope attached to your back. There is no way to know you have “life-line” unless you twist yourself around.
From there you climb up another tall tree to a small 2-foot square ledge. That’s where you are to jump—no, make that LEAP—off the ledge and attempt to grab a trapeze style-bar about 5 feet in front of you.
I’m lost in thought about the disabled kids doing this when a young “normal” girl caught my attention.
She’s on that ledge in fear. She started to cry. She wanted to climb down. She negotiated with the course-leader about other ways to get back to safety.
“Can I just turn around and then hang off?”
“No, that’s unsafe. Just hold your chest harness and edge off. You’re safe. I’ve got you.”
“Can I just go to that ledge (pointing to the one 10 feet lower) and go from there?”
“No, that’s unsafe. Just scootch to edge off. I know you’re scared but I’ve got you.”
“Can I…I don’t want to…” and she starts to cry.
My heart is now breaking for this girl. I’m emotionally invested in her success. I’m thinking, just go honey, it’s not that high, your other 8 friends here just did it, you can do it too, they are all safe, just go. And it doesn’t take long before I’m shouting words of encouragement towards her. “Just scootch to the edge. You can do this!”
I’m feeling her fear. The longer she’s up there the worse it’s getting. We’re all feeling the anxiety radiating from her little body. After 10-minutes of cheering her on, it’s feeling hopeless.
As fear has taken its tight grab on her heart and mind, she’s finally offered a “pick-up.” This means the rope she’s attached to is pulley-ed up, which lifts her off the ledge. Then she’s gently lowered down to the ground.
Once her feet touch the dirt, she buries her tearful face into the shoulder and loving safe arms of her camp-leader. And I’m reminded of me. Too much. And how fear stops progress and growth.
I’m not sure what possessed me to harness up for the course. Maybe I simply wanted another fun camp experience. Or to have a small understanding and inkling of courage the disabled kids had to access in doing the course. Or maybe somewhere in my subconscious I didn’t want to be that girl—crying on the ledge—who couldn’t fearlessly leap. Or at least scootch.
As the course-guide clipped a yellow safety line between me and an overhead wire, I was aware of how ridiculous my butt must have looked in a mountain-climbers harness. And the lack of protection the plastic helmet provided. I figured it would help about as much as a Tupperware bowl.
The course was quite fun. I was “just doing” it. Surprisingly, for being 40 feet above the fallen pine-needles and on-lookers with cranked necks viewing my harnessed hinny, I felt safe. I felt brave and courageous.
If I ever started to feel unsure—I wiped the thought from my mind and held the yellow safety line in front of me. AND after all—the kids did this. I wanted to feel these moments and prove to myself that I AM and CAN embrace this new fearless life of mine.
Again, note to self: there are no limitations to what we can do—no matter how life has disabled us.
The entire time—from the moment I saw the young girl cry, till my final moment on the ledge—I KNEW the end would be challenging. But I underestimated just how challenging it would be.
Looking down pounded my heart in my chest, throat, and ears. Closing my eyes, I told myself I could do it. This was not working. Knowing others had gone before me, and accomplished the last part—was of no help.
I felt alone. Scared. Frozen. I didn’t want to need a “pick-up.”
NO! I had to do this. And as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t. Anxiety built in me. The longer I sat, the harder I knew it would be.
The course leader shouted up what he told the others, “You’re safe. Hold your chest harness and edge off. I’m ready for you.”
Someone below started to sing “Jesus loves me this I know…” OMGosh! THAT was sooooo not helping!
I wanted to—yet I didn’t know how to do it. With my eyes closed and my heartbeat drowning out the world, I quietly said, “I’m yours, You have to help me be fearless.” With that, I leaned over and left the edge. My heart stopped and the air wouldn’t come in till the rope caught me. Suspended 45 feet above the ground I could gasp in air and my heart pumped waves of adrenaline through my veins.
I did it. I felt fearless.
JUST KEEP TRYING
From experience—be it a ropes course or the hard-knock life—I know that when you decide to become fearless it’s peppered with fear.
Like adding sugar to a spicy salsa—it doesn’t make sense—but that’s how it works.
Just like one doesn’t have faith unless there has been doubt.
So it is with fearlessness. You must have specific fear to overcome to become fearless. For every person, leaving the ledge means something different. And eventually— unless you want to be stuck on the ledge—you have to try. And we all have a Life-Line attached to us—even if we can’t see it.
So try. Keep trying. Because there are no limitations to what we can do—regardless of our disability.
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