Saturday, September 1, 2018

Walking on Air...A Lesson Learned Past Midlife

Salt River Canyon -- One of the roads I won't be driving myself.
I have to start with this: I am afraid of heights. Honestly, I've actually held my children back from the wall overlooking a beautiful canyon because I couldn't handle the strange sharpness in my heart that I felt when they ventured too close to the edge. Now, mind you, I've hiked some pretty good trails, but when they would get high on the side of a mountain, I would hug the rocky mountainside as if it were my mother. I'm not a screamer, nor have I ever refused to hike the trails because of the height. I also believe that I have enough faith to know that most of the time, no matter what my fight-or-flight response is telling me, everything will be alright. I have, however, refused to drive certain roads. Sometimes, I've just been a passenger in a car on one of those roads and decided I'm never, ever going to be behind the wheel on such a treacherous highway. However, I've even promised never again to drive a road that I've successfully managed, with a lot of prayer and white knuckles. The point is, of course, that heights bother me. Big time.

Salt River Canyon
Now, once upon a time when I was a young 20-something in the Massachusetts Air National Guard, I had the opportunity to rappel. As the Secretary for the Security Police at the 104 TFG at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Massachusetts, I was invited to join the SPs on their obstacle course, which included jumping off a 60 foot wall. In retrospect, I'm not sure I realized the wall was part of the course. I didn't want to be the only one from my unit who didn't do the course, so I accepted the invitation. Twice, I geared up with ropes and caribiners, leaned backwards off the wall, and slid down the rope to the ground below. I realize now that I was able to do it in spite of my fear because I was too proud to give in to my fear once I had accepted the challenge. So, I did it. I never planned to do anything like it again, unless I was faced with a life or death situation in which the only chance of survival required rappelling.

Then I turned 60. Now, there have been two milestones that have taken me by surprise. Turning 50 was the first. After my 50th birthday, I began to find that I was much happier in my own skin than I had ever been before. I relaxed and became a generally happier person. I became less fearful in many ways. The decade after 50 was filled with new experiences - commuting from Arizona to California for seminary; ups and downs in my discernment of ministry, which started in the United Methodist Church and ended up in the Universal Anglican Interspiritual Church; reconnecting with an old friend and discovering we were both in love and getting married. By the end of the decade, I had changed careers in my "day job," entering a field that had never even been on my radar. Yet, with all the new experiences, I had not yet truly been challenged. Rather, if I had been especially challenged, I either did not recognize the opportunity, or I turned away in fear.

Sixty happened this year, and it has already changed me. This is how.

I recently accepted a new position in the company I have been at for the last year and a half. With the new position, I became a member of a team that I had only been connected with in an ancillary fashion previously. Last week, our supervisors scheduled our quarterly staff meeting at a place called The Main Event. After the staff meeting, we were able to play. A few of my coworkers played laser tag. Most of us bowled. I bowled. But before the bowling was the true adventure. You see, they have this thing they call the Gravity Walk. It's a series of ropes and foam walkways that hangs 15 feet in the air, above the video games. When I first heard about it, I thought it might be one of those rock climbing walls, and I told myself I would try it. When I saw what it really was, I way I can do that. I stood by a table sipping a glass of water thinking about it when all of a sudden I heard myself telling a coworker that I was thinking about doing the Gravity Walk. 

That was it. She said, "We're doing it!" and we were off. Signed up, suited up, and standing on a ledge 15 feet above everybody else. Like the 20-something me who jumped off a wall because I said I would, I found myself walking across the first rope and stepping on a landing where my coworker waited for me.This second leg of the walk was harder. I stood on the landing, looking at the next step and thought "there's no way my foot will reach that spot." I stood there, pondering this space where between the landing where I stood and the foam walk seemed enormous and all I could see below was the floor. I was determined not to turn around. I stepped...onto the rope...and then onto the foam step. Each bit of the walk was different and posed a different challenge. Each time, I had to tell myself to take the step. Take the step. Even walking sideways on only a rope, holding on to one rope hanging from the ceiling, grabbing another as I stepped along the rope. I did it! I made it all the way around the Gravity Walk. All the way around, down the stairs, unburdened of my gear, and walking out, I said, "I'm going to do that again! Not now, but soon." And I will.

Me, 15 feet in the air!
What I learned is this. Walking the rope is a perfect metaphor for making decisions through life. Each new step is filled with trepidation and possible danger. Yet, if you take the step, even if you take a half step onto the rope and another half step to make to the next destination, you'll get somewhere. Turning around won't get you anywhere. Only facing the fear and making a decision to take a step will get you anywhere.

It isn't much. It seems a simple lesson. Yet, it's a lesson I had not truly learned until now. I've forged forward in many ways in life, but most everything that has happened in my life is something of an accident. I either made a decision without much thought, or I made no decision at all, and whatever would happen, happened. Now, I realized how much may have been different if I had not lived my life dictated by my fears. I think I was given an important message from the Divine, to be honest. A message about my own life.

From 60 onward may be the final part of a life on this plane of existence, but it need not be the end of my life yet. There is no need to let fear cripple me. From now on, I will be brave. I will courageously face whatever is before me, and decide for myself what step to take.

From now on, I am on an adventure!

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