Friday, October 4, 2013


It is the afternoon of April 20, 2013 and I am in Ashland, Nebraska... for the Jumping Tandem Retreat.  Yes, Nebraska.  And really, who goes to Nebraska for a retreat? smile.

But here I am and when I registered for this retreat six months earlier, I paid the little extra for something called, "Brave Activities."  A group of about 15 of us women just completed the 3-story climb up a net to descend on a zip line.  And although it was exhilarating and everyone feels a little more empowered than a few moments earlier, there is a bitter cold wind and the group votes unanimously that they're ready to return to the lodge to warm up with steaming cups of comfort.  Our guide appears disappointed.

"Are you sure?" he asks.  "I promise you it will be worth it."  He goes on to describe the high ropes course and the Power Pole.  He doesn't have to ask me twice and I am relieved that he's willing to continue on with myself and two other gals.

Together we follow him and his crew up a trail to the top of a hill.  It's gustier up here.  He leads us to a telephone pole and describes the ascent... and the moment at the top when the climber must get both feet planted on top of the pole and stand straight up.  I'm so totally in!

The team gets me strapped into the safety harnesses and I begin the climb.  Easy.  Even as I reach the top, I'm confident.  What is it to tackle a fear while attached to security lines?  But when I come to the last two pegs to stand on and I'm bent low at the waist gripping the edge of the top, and I notice how the pole sways in the wind...

At first my thoughts are filled with confident strategics.  After all, the crew coaches me from below, their voices carrying on the wind.  "Just get one foot on top and then you'll be able to balance while you put the other foot up!"  So I let go.  And I reach out to hold onto... air.  My heart beats a little faster as a rush of adrenalin surges.  And so it goes.  Hold on.  Think.  Tighten core.  Balance.  Let go... maybe with one hand this time.  A gust of wind swoops over the hill and I rock back and forth.  Grip the edges.  Think.  Think.  My mind fills with the wonder of this moment.  This impossible tug-of-war between can't-do and of-course-you-can.

The guide yells up at me, "What I've found helpful for myself at this point..." he pauses, "is if I slide my foot slowly against the pole until it reaches the top and then I just slide it on."  Okay.  The crew is shouting a chorus of encouragement.

Slowly, I slide my foot.  But the pole sways, my heart pounds, my legs shake.  I'm asking myself why in the world this is important to me.  And that's when I realize, I'm not afraid of falling.  I'm afraid of failing.

My foot is level with the top now and all I have to do is move it a centimeter or so.  This moment... a complete rush... the momentum of don't-stop-now-you've-got-this...

And I admit, I am paralyzed.  If I don't move, I'm pretty sure I won't fall.  And then I realize that my inertia will cause me to fail.  But I can't seem to get past the mere millimeters...

My sweet friend, Caryn, who I met just this morning appears below.  A spirit of fortitude is carried upward in her exhortation, "Breathe, Sharon.  It's okay.  Take your time.  Breathe."

So I do.  I pause there to breathe.  In the rush of the moment.  The rush of wonder.

"And the Lord God... breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being."  And maybe it's not so much about being brave as it is about staying present.  The wonder of impossibility and how that God dreams bigger, breathing life into our - paralyzing - impossible moments.

With that, the next moments are one slow movement after another, sinews pull taut, hands outstretch for balance -- having let go of the notion that there's something other than air to hold onto.  I stand straight, aligning with the rhythm of the swaying pole.  And now I can take in the views.  Turn 360 degrees, smile long across Nebraska prairie.  I didn't fall.  And I didn't fail.  I breathe deep and whisper wonder into whirling gusts.

Then I jump.  Because that's the way down.  Simply leap into surrender, trusting, believing that teammates below are going to pull on the rope attached to my safety harness.  It's a momentary free fall before mid-air suspension and the controlled descent to solid ground.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

(I spent a ridiculous amount of time looking for the photos of this experience... along with photos of my brave friends who conquered the zip line and high ropes course with me.  I finally realized I'd never get around to posting this if I kept looking. smile.)

1 comment:

  1. oh, i felt the exhilaration in this, friend! i'm so proud of you! i'm deathly afraid of heights, and know that this was NO small feat. yay! love this line: "Then I jump. Because that's the way down." thank you so much for sharing with imperfect prose. xo