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Ropes-LogAs I walked along the mulch path from the parking lot, hand in hand with my son, I heard a voice in my head say, “What the hell were you thinking?” To the left of the path was a ropes course, about 60-feet high, complete with tight ropes, a log bridge, and a few other precarious wires that didn’t look fit to hold a large bird, let alone a human. I suddenly remembered I am afraid of heights. Flashes of my father’s skyscraper office windows stretching from floor to ceiling triggered a familiar disconcerted nausea. As a young girl, I dared not approach those windows because of the vertigo they provoked.

What the hell was I thinking?

We gave our tickets to the guides, who proceeded to assist us with belts, clips and helmets. “Is that tight enough?” the guide asked me. “I have no idea,” I replied, not sure if tightening the straps already bunching my shorts would increase my likelihood for survival or the retention of consciousness.

My son and I marched up another mulch path to our first zip-line of the day, which would take us to the ropes course. After completing the course we would take four more zip-lines across the park to finish our tour. It had all sounded very exciting during an abstract conversation in the car. But now we were standing at the top of a very small, high tower, and excitement was morphing with anxiety.

ropes-log2My brave boy jumped first, and I could do nothing else but follow him. When we reached the ropes course, we had three choices: the “difficult course” to the right, the “easier course” to the left, and a third option our tour guide said we shouldn’t consider. I was confused. I saw a course to the right, and next to it a rope bridge with wood slats far enough apart that you could see down the full 60-feet, which I imagined must be the “easier course” to the left.

I was mistaken.

This was the option-not-offered – the easy way out, only to be taken if you weren’t willing to challenge yourself at all. The suggested “easier option” was further to my left, and I wasn’t quite sure how a person was supposed to navigate any of it.

“I want to do the left,” said my boy.

“Great,” I said.

“But you go first,” he said.

I could see he was nervous, so I didn’t have time to think about me. I climbed across the first obstacle without much drama, noticing it required a little more upper body strength than I anticipated, and wondering what would lie ahead. Boy-O followed, also with no problem, his wiry arms hoisting much less weight than mine had to, easy-peasy, lemon-squeasy.

We approached the second obstacle: the log bridge. That there was nothing to hold on to created the illusion that we were higher than we were before. I was further freaked when my guide crossed first, and I noticed the log trembling with each of his steps. We were sixty feet above the ground on a round, wobbly balance beam. When the guide instructed me to hold on to my own harness, the realization that this beloved belt had already carried me across a zip line lowered my heart rate a little. Worst-case scenario, I would slip and swing a shorter distance than I already had. And so I was able to cross.

My boy didn’t make the mental love connection with his tether. He was scared. He breathed heavily, took a few tiny steps, and then backed up. “I can’t do it,” he cried. “Yes, you can – you’re already doing it,” I said. “I’m so proud of you.” He inched forward a few more steps, emitting tense squeaking noises with each footfall. He stopped and stood in the middle of the bridge, paralyzed for a moment, considering turning back. “Don’t turn back,” I said. “You’re already half-way here – you have the same distance to travel if you move forward.” The guide met him half way, giving him an alternative focal point, and helped him across.

There’s a reason they call them “confidence courses.” It is invaluable to know how to move through an obstacle, rather than allow oneself to be paralyzed with the analysis of it. Don’t think about the width of the rope you’re stepping on, or the height from which you can plummet. Have faith that there is a tether to carry you across, and thoughtfully focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

Across my life, I have held on to many beliefs that were dictated by fear of their opposites; ideas I had to let go of to find peace. Here are just a few examples:

  1. My parents will never divorce – because they promised me they wouldn’t when I was eight years old.
  2. If I ever get sick, doctors and modern medicine will have easy, obvious answers to cure me.
  3. Once we’re married, my husband and I will live happily ever after – I won’t make any of the same mistakes my parents made, and neither will he.
  4. I won’t make mistakes with my kids, either – I will always be the “cool and understanding mom.”

The problem with beliefs rooted in fear is that when they fall apart, it’s scarier than if you hadn’t dug your heels into your stupid, fake beliefs in the first place. I used to think that love would be the tool that fulfilled all of my expectations. I am learning now that expectations are the wobbly log on which we teeter. Dig your heels in, and you lose your balance and end up with a log catching you between the legs. Ouch. We have to let go of the ideas or value judgments we place on whether we cross the divide stumbling or with grace, and just focus on putting one foot in front of the other, holding on to faith (or a large tether with a strong clip) that we’ll make it either way. Love doesn’t eliminate the obstacles; it just offers a better focal point.

“Don’t think about the log, son. Just look at me and put one foot in front of the other.”

When the next obstacle was a literal tight-rope, I didn’t have time to be afraid. I knew I had to plunge forward bravely, so that my boy would see there was nothing to fear. “Watch, me! Piece of cake!” I said. But the truth is, this was my scariest obstacle. I just kept my focus on my son and the example I hoped to set for him. I had no reason to worry, though. Once he made it across that log – his greatest challenge – there was no turning back.

And then we were free.

We jumped and zipped and flew through tall trees for the remainder of a perfect sunny morning. At the end of the day, we looked back at all we had accomplished, and we felt happy and proud, a little wiser and a little braver for whatever may come next.