I have exactly four fears in life. Spiders, scary movies, being trapped underwater in a sinking ship, and heights. The first three, I can live without. If I never saw a spider again I’d be fine. Saw 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,and 8 are NOT on my must-see movie list, and I’d rather not die ’til I’m old and gray so hopefully my Greek ferry won’t sink in March.
But when it comes to heights, I hate and love them. Nothing gives me a bigger rush than jumping off of tall things or looking over the edge to see the ground fall away beneath me. Sky diving is definitely on my bucket list. But to get to the point where I take the jump, I have to psych myself out of the mental-shut-down process I go through every time. I know most fears are a false expectation about reality, but I find myself embracing and shunning heights nonetheless.
Part of the reason why I went on the Encompass journey was to challenge myself to face my fear of heights and try to overcome it. I knew our outdoor sports in the Scottish Highlands would require lots of heights and courage to face those heights, so I jumped at the chance to go.But, conquering my fear of heights is much easier said than done. It’s one thing to look over the side of a building and say ‘okay, been there done that, I’m brave now’.
In fact, I know I couldn’t have done it without my team members cheering me on. If there’s even the slightest chance that I might fall, part of me shuts down. I freeze, start sweating and mentally freak out. So when our outdoor instructors showed us the zip-line on the second day, I said heck no, initially. Of course I did it, because everyone else did, but jumping off the zip-line platform into the air, trusting that the harness would catch me took all of my guts. I closed my eyes, bit my lip and did it. All I remember was the initial rush of free falling, and then going so fast that the trees became a green blur. As I swung back, I heard the screams and cheers from my teammates and I knew the worst was over.
Then two days later, we climbed a tree. WE CLIMBED A TREE. We were strung together onto harnesses so if one person slipped and fell off the branches, theoretically all of the other people would catch their weight. The furthest you could technically fall would be 5 or 6 feet. So, of course, cockiness got the better of me (since I’d been jumping off of things all week) and I volunteered to be toward the front of the line going up the ladder, up, up, up the tree. It rained earlier that day and my little gloves were soaked. I climbed the ladder, only two people were ahead of me, and prepared to take my first step onto a branch to being climbing…
First branch, so far, so good. Second branch, okay, I got this. Third branch, yoga breathing, yoga breathing, don’t freak out. Fourth branch. I AM GOING TO DIE, GET ME DOWN NOW! I clung to the trunk, the ground spiraled away, my shoes slipped and I balanced on a three-inch branch, kissing the bark and pinching tears from my eyes, trying to be brave. I wasn’t moving and since the team was tied together, everyone’s climbing progress depended on me to keep climbing. There was no going back, I absolutely had to climb up and down the tree, AND I WAS GOING TO DIE.
Then, through my hazy breaths, I heard Francis, one of the British boys tell me to grab his hand. He was two branches ahead of me and he turned back to pull me ahead with him. I felt his strong grip grab my wrist, and he keep a calming running commentary in a low voice. Encouraging words: you can do it, nice and easy. That’s it, just a little step here, brilliant, well done. Somehow, Francis talked me into un-gluing my trembling body from the tree trunk. He talked me into moving just one more branch. Then just one more. Then, before I knew it, to the cheers of my teammates still on the ground, I was moving. And so was everyone else.
All 12 of us moved slowly up the tree. From branch to branch, until we were at least a hundred thousand feet in the air. At times we stopped and waited for people to make it to the next big branch. Some people cried, some found themselves pushed to exhaustion,
some were just fine and more than happy to wait patiently. We were all linked together and you couldn’t move until the person in front and the person behind you moved. Everyone was so positive that I even laughed and smiled a bit (albeit nervously). We were one unit, and when we touched down on the ground, I’ve never felt more relieved. I sat down on a log and looked at the ground, totally shocked that I’d just climbed a tree. It wasn’t until two days later that I actually felt a sense of accomplishment and now, looking back on my Encompass memories, I know that I couldn’t have done it without my team.
There’s a lesson in that. It’s easy to operate as a single, independent unit in life, but at some point, we absolutely can’t move forward alone. We need someone to grab our hand and coax us up to the next branch. If we go through life alone, we’re bound to get stuck, and stay stuck.