Monday, March 15, 2010

Reaching the Sky

I wrote this for an assignment in my English Composition class last year. I found it the other day when going through my documents, and thought I'd share. :)

Reaching the Sky

"Oh no. Today's the day." That was my first thought as I woke up that cold, dreary morning. I was lying on a narrow bottom bunk in a camp cabin. I slowly sat up and stretched, being careful not to bump my head on the heavy oak frame of the bed. My counselor started singing, "Oh what a beautiful morning" in the shower as I watched the other girls in my cabin slowly open their eyes. Hannah Sue, already wide awake, was perched in her top bunk across the room. She called out, "Good morning Becky! Are you ready for today?" Inwardly, I groaned. Today was the day I had been dreading all summer long. It was the first day of an "extreme" week of summer camp for Christian teens from Missouri and Arkansas. I had been convinced to come by a large group of guys from my youth group, but while they were all looking forward to the extreme activities of the week, I was mostly hoping to meet some new friends and enjoy time away from the stress of life. Timid was my middle name, and the thought of trying to be bold, brave, and "extreme" petrified me. Little did I know that those expectations would be challenged in some rather terrifying ways that very first day of camp.

As soon as the entire group was awake and ready to go, all 35 of us piled into the camp bus. I sat in row 7b, next to my friend Mark. When he asked me if I was ready to be "extreme" today, I replied with a sarcastic, "Oh, I can't wait." He brushed it off. "You'll be fine," he said. Outwardly, I agreed and said I was sure it would be fun. Inside however, I was trembling like a leaf in a hurricane. We bumped along dusty back roads for almost half an hour, my fear and tension mounting with each mile. I wondered what our first activity would be. Would we be paintballing, caving, or rappelling? "Or maybe," I thought, "it will be something much scarier than any of those things." I held my breath as the bus pulled around the last bend, and our challenge for that day came into view: a high ropes course. Thirty feet off the ground, the poles and cables towered above us, casting shadows that were lost in the distance. We all scrambled out of the bus and stood gazing at it for a few moments before a sharp clap jerked us out of our reverie. "Let's get going, we want to have as much time up there as possible," yelled out our counselor.

We split into our two groups, and quickly got buckled into our harnesses. The mood was lighthearted for the most part. There was a lot of joking about how incredibly uncomfortable and awkward looking the harnesses were, and lots of discussion about which of the elements of the course looked the most challenging. I stayed quiet, trying to acclimate myself to the idea of spending several hours 30 feet in the air. As we got ready, our guides shared a little about the course and our equipment. With a partner, we would first climb up a 30-foot pole. Then, after crawling up onto a 2-by-2 foot platform, we would, with our partner, step out onto a narrow, but incredibly strong cable. Each cable ran between two poles, and there were different ropes and boards suspended in the air above each one to help us get across. The sets of cables, ropes, and boards each made up an "element." The goal for each element was the same -- advance from the first pole to the second pole. Attached to our harnesses were ropes and "lobster claws," hooks which secured us to cables as we walked. These ropes could be used for support, but the guides challenged us to touch them as little as possible. My immediate thought upon hearing that was, "Well, I really don't think I'll be able to do that! It will be a miracle if I even reach the top." After being briefed on the safety procedures and various rules for up on the course, we began to divide into partners.

I looked around, trying to decide who I should ask to partner with me. I knew this was an important decision. This was the person I would spend over four hours with that afternoon. They would be helping me along with the course -- telling me where to put my feet for each step, offering a hand for assistance, and encouraging me with each step. While I was mulling this over in my mind, Hannah Sue came and asked me to be her partner. I had just met her the day before, but I agreed, knowing she was experienced in all things "extreme."

So we set out, Hannah Sue and I. One pair from each group went up at a time. Hannah Sue said that we should be the first to go up; I told her that I wanted to be the last. We compromised, and went up third in line. She climbed first. Up the pole she shimmied, looking like a monkey who was at home in the jungle. She got to the top, calmly transfered her ropes to the cable, and called down for me to follow. I hesitated. As soon as I picked up my foot and placed it on that first rung, I would be committed to going up. I could not turn back. The thought terrified me. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. My thoughts finally focused on a single thought. "What if I actually can do this? If I don't go up, I'll never know." With that in my mind, I was ready. I opened my eyes and stepped towards the pole. Then I climbed. I didn't look down and I didn't stop to think about what I was doing. I just climbed. Up, and up, and up, and up, until suddenly, I was at the top. Hannah Sue held out her hand and pulled me onto the platform, all the time telling me that I'd done a great job.

Once she had helped me figure out where to stand, she immediately began planning out our route through the elements. I stood there frozen. Although I had made it up, the challenge was not over. I began to doubt my ability to go on. Hannah Sue, oblivious to my fear, selected our first element, and stepped down, testing the tension of the cord with her foot. Returning to the platform, she turned to me and said, "Are you ready? This is going to be a hard one, but I know we can do it. Let's go across together." It was just what I needed to jerk my attention away from my fears, and back to the matter at hand. She stepped out first. Arms out and not holding onto anything, she balanced herself on the cord, then held out a hand. "Just step onto the cord Becky. It's not too far down, and it's a really easy step," she urged. Once again, I hesitated. "I'm really scared Hannah Sue." There. I had said it. I waited, expecting a flippant remark like "don't be silly." But, to my surprise, Hannah Sue stepped back onto the platform and took my hand. Looking straight into my eyes, she said, "Everyone has fears, Becky. Some are harder to deal with than others, but you will never know how far you can go until you push yourself. I know you can do this." My attention was focused on her as she stepped back down onto the cable. "All right. Take a deep breath and just step down," she coached. I leaned out, grasped her hand, and took that first step. Then, I willed my second foot to join my first. We both balanced and slowly started to shuffle along the cable, hands clasped. Suddenly, I lurched to the right. A scream almost escaped my lips, but Hannah Sue quickly leaned to her right and steadied the cord until I regained my balance. We moved on, step by step. Before I knew it, we were finished and stepping onto the second platform. I looked and Hannah Sue and she said, with a twinkle in her eye, "Well, that wasn't so bad after all, was it?" I laughed. We looked at each other, and said together, "Let's do the next one!" This time, although she still lead the way, I stepped out with excitement and anticipation. The rest of the afternoon, we danced across the elements like butterflies, always finding new and more challenging ways to accomplish each one. As we rode down the zip line at the end and landed safely on the ground, I found myself feeling oddly satisfied. Suddenly it came to me -- I had faced my fear of heights, and I had conquered.

Looking back on that week, the first thing that comes to mind isn't all the friends I made. It's not the time spent relaxing in my cabin, or the fun activites I did around the camp. In fact, my fondest memories weren't made when I was safely on the ground; they were made high up in the sky, as I balanced and tottered my way to confidence, holding the hand of Hannah Sue. It was there I learned the importance of teamwork and encouragement. It was there I first found that your fears are only as great as you allow them to be. And it was there I discovered that I could do the impossible.

No comments: