A few steps across that turf covered balance beam and I felt confident. I knew in my head that I had made a commitment and no matter how, I would cross that fallen tree trunk and prove to Karl, the kids, and myself that victory is for those who face their fears. While it wasn’t a pretty site to see me slowly put one foot in front of the other, I managed to make headway over the ravine and without looking down at the brook beneath, knew that I was almost to the other side.
When I reached the last eighth of the way, the bark had, in what I imagine was adolescent angst, split off from its parent trunk and remained only loosely attached. When I put my right foot down in that particular spot, the sole of my tennis shoes slipped off the bark and caused me immediate panic and instability. I gingerly found a spot for my foot to rest more securely and paused long enough to calculate my next move. I only had a few feet left to traverse before I would be on solid ground, but the question was how would I get there? I could have probably run, slipped and nearly slid to the other side. But instead, I chose to hunker down and get on all fours, grip the trunk with feet, knees and hands in order to guarantee my safety. As if I was being hunted by a bear and couldn’t make the slightest motion or sound I slowly bent over, crouched down and dug my fingers into the soft green moss for a grip that would ensure my safety. Behind me I heard cackles and giggles from Lucy and Peter who were extremely amused to see their grown mother act as if she were being hunted by a bear, knowing full well that she was not. Later, they would mimic my overly cautious stance by bending over, and moving to the ground at the pace of a chameleon. Once I was on all fours and felt more secure, I shuffled the rest of the way, broke through a large spider web and found myself solidly on the other side, jumping up and down with exquisite self-amusement, proud of myself and full of that terrifyingly awesome feeling in my belly.
I ran down the other side of the ravine, crossed the water and hiked backed up to where Karl and the kids were waiting. Lucy and Peter were jazzed and ready to go themselves. And while I had just accomplished what I felt to be a grand fete, I wasn’t so sure I wanted them to do the same. I looked over and saw Karl’s cautious face and asked him to step aside and have a conversation with me. He and I went back and forth over what would be best for the kids. He pointed out just how scared I had been and the slow motion hunkering down that happened at the end proved that it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. I agreed, the task was hard for me, sure, but I still did it. I actually thought that maybe the kids should just try, get scared, return and thus elevate my status as a brave and daring mother goddess; one whom they should respect and listen to more often.
Karl and I were torn. Of course, we would never want any harm to come to our children. But I also don’t want to spare them some of the exhilaration and excitement that can come when you don’t let your fears silence, petrify and numb you like they have often done to me. So, we brainstormed some more (actually, argued quite a bit) until we stumbled on the idea that Karl is so tall that he could walk underneath the trunk and be there to catch them if they were to fall. While he didn’t want to get muddy and wet, he would rather be safe than sorry, so with that, he agreed to let them do it. Lucy and Peter heard the news and were thrilled, fighting over who got to go first.
And wouldn’t you know it, something that proved awkward and difficult for me, was like a game of hopscotch to them. They both took to the trunk and walked straight across never once stopping, looking down or back or cowering in their fear. They traversed that thing as if it were a grocery store parking lot curb. It was fascinating, humbling, exhilarating, and awesome to watch. Full commitment. Full success. And what was more…their sincerest pleasure was poking fun of me the rest of the day for making it look so difficult.
Last weekend, we took advantage of the unseasonably gorgeous weather in Seattle and went on our first of 50 City Walks in Seattle. On one of our many garage sale exhibitions this summer, we discovered a box of cards that invites you to explore undiscovered gems hidden in neighborhoods and parks of the city. As master geo-cachers, the summons to find hidden treasure was an offer we couldn’t turn down (not to mention the box of cards was about $.50 – another reason not to refuse).
So, after Peter’s early soccer game, we laced on our walking shoes and schlepped up some snacks and were off to discover what nuggets Schmitz Preserve Park had to offer.
Schmitz Preserve is the city’s largest old-growth forest. 53-acres of lusciousness is neatly tucked away inconspicuously near the popular Alki Beach in West Seattle. We accurately followed the map to our destination. However, surprisingly, houses surround the park on all sides, so we missed the simple entrance and had to be redirected to the stone gates that marked the trailhead. Once we confirmed that we were in the right place, we headed off on our adventure under a canopy of changing multi-colored leaves and on top of a carpet of thick green moss and ferns.
One step past the gate and you see giant trees toppled over ravines and roots the size of your thigh twisted and mangled sprouting new saplings. Tree limbs that were seemingly on a trip down to the ground have made U-turns and are headed vertical once again. Bases of trees have been uprooted and their diameter is wide enough to be a circular dining room table set for eight. Having lived in the arid climate of Colorado most of my life, I am still perpetually shocked at the verdant environment I now call home.
We walked along a prepared path admiring the Douglas firs and red cedars. It was only a few minutes before the sounds of the city disappeared altogether. What remained was the gentle whirl of a small creek that ran through the middle of the forest. Overlooking a ravine, we saw that the water was only about 10 feet down. But the slope was steep and wet, and having just started, we weren’t interested in getting muddied up yet. We decided to stay on high ground until we came to a giant tree that had fallen across the gulch providing a bridge across the bubbling brook. With a trunk at least 2 feet wide and covered in thick green moss, it seemed like a comfortable byway to the other side.
The kids and I immediately hopped on the tree and suggested that we use it to cross over the water, stay dry, and explore the other side of the forest. Karl has no love of high things and suggested we could go on ahead and he would find another way around. So, Lucy and Peter followed me onto the trunk and together we walked until we got just past the ledge of the trail and were above the chasm. There, I quickly discovered there were no other trees on which to lean or branches on which to hold. My bravado swiftly escaped me when I realized I was standing over a 15-foot drop to a very shallow body of water. There, a terrifyingly awesome feeling flitted in my belly. Something akin to fear had me insist that we all back up slowly and get off the “bridge.”
Once my young were back on land, safe from danger, I exclaimed, “It’s so scary! But…I want to make it all the way across!” Karl, naturally, shook his head and asked, “Why?” I replied, “Because I love that feeling. I want to have it again!” That terrifyingly awesome feeling I had in my belly was unfamiliar. I don’t regularly practice taking risks, seeking danger or chasing thrills. Sure, I’ve had my raucous days of skinny dipping, cow-tipping, TP-ing, and Truth or Daring. I’ve even been skydiving! I’m not immune to wanting adventure. But, I don’t make it a part of my everyday life. And I miss it. What amuses me most is that I knew that feeling – it wasn’t entirely foreign. It had just been a long time since I had felt its presence and I forgot how exhilarating it is. And like rekindling a friendship after a long separation, it takes a moment to get past the unfamiliar before remembering how wonderful it used to be and is again.
After some hesitation, I decided I would cross that moss covered tree trunk bridge to get to the other side. I chose to engage that part of myself that had long been forgotten and invite the exhilaration of fear to be a part of my life once again. With Karl still shaking his head and my kids squealing in anticipation, eager to see their mom do what they themselves were longing to do, I set one foot in front of the other and with great commitment and concentration began the gymnastic act that was an attempt to cross a slippery balance beam made up of bark and bristle…
I am not one of those people that watches the same movie over and over again, but strangely enough I have watched We Bought a Zoo about six or so times since it was released in 2011. Don’t worry – there is no need for a spoiler alert. I won’t even give you a summary of the movie because that isn’t even the point of this post. What I will tell you, however, is that there are a couple of scenes in the film where Matt Damon’s character reflects on how an individual typically only needs 20 seconds of insane courage to do something outrageous. For whatever reason, I am mustering up the 20 seconds of insane courage necessary today to begin to type the first words for this blog.
Why the need for insane courage? Because to hope can be terrifying. To unleash desire can be overwhelmingly vulnerable. To enter into our own story or to engage the stories of others is risky business. In my experience, taking the first steps (or typing the first words) are the most difficult, but once we begin to move forward momentum can carry us into a new chapter. So here I am. Here we are. Three therapists are walking into a new blog.
Feel free to comment below. We’d love to hear about when you’ve had to muster 20 seconds of insane courage.