I don’t take risks, even with two feet planted firmly on the ground. I don’t stray far outside of my comfort zone, which doesn’t extend far beyond home. So when a friend invited my husband and me to a ropes course, I decided I needed a change. I would sign up and worry about panic later.
When I learned the ropes course was forty feet in the air, I tried not to think about it even though I have an extreme fear of heights. I once froze in the middle of a climbing net at a children’s museum, panic locking my ability to breathe or rationalize the fact I was wallowing in millions of germs.
When I admitted I was nervous about my upcoming adventure, my daughter couldn’t understand why. In her seven-year-old mind the ropes course looked like a midair playground. She never knew I was afraid of heights. Immediately she coached me.
“Mommy, you can do this! You have to do this!” she urged. “You always make me do stuff. You’re going to do this.”
Well now I had to do this. As I climbed the rope ladder up to the first platform and reality settled in, it was those words that kept my quivering legs going. Immediate panic overwhelmed me as I stood shaking at the top of the ladder.
I knew I actually might not do this. I could have driven an hour, paid my fee, and climbed that ladder only to turn around and say I can’t. While the other eleven people in the group moved on to different platforms, tightropes, and nets, I fought back tears and an urge to turn and hightail it through the woods.
It became a morning that wasn’t about teamwork. No one could make me do this but me. Could I cross nine squares floating in the sky like rocks in a stream? “Take one step. Just stand on that tiny square and see what it’s like,” I thought. “Good, now another.” I thought a lot of words I tell my kids not to say. I thought about my daughter and how I didn’t want to let her down. I had to do just one obstacle for her. I didn’t want to go home and say that I didn’t.
It’s embarrassing to stand forty feet high, wiping the one tear that got away, struggling with a lifetime of never taking chances. I didn’t think about getting to the other side or how I’d get down. I thought about taking the next step.
It felt like hours, but I made it across. The only thing that kept me going after that was that I wanted to try the zip line, the way down from this madness. I had to go through two more obstacles to get there.
Every muscle tense, my palms sweaty, my feet unsure, I did those too.
I knew the zip line would be quick. I wiped my palms, inched off the platform, and in one exhaustive scream, a release of fear, relief. For the first time all morning, I could laugh and breathe and say, “I did it.”
“At least you conquered your fear,” my husband said on the way home.
“Not really,” I said. Faced it maybe, but it still conquers me.
“Well at least you’ll know what to do if you’re ever in that situation again,” he said.
Fear caught in my throat. “My God,” I thought. “I hope I’m never in that situation again.”