Tuesday, September 15, 2009
“...being brave doesnt mean you're not afraid--it means overcoming your fear. I have learned that I want to live until I die.”
Fittingly enough, the above quote was the last line in an article in a skydiving magazine, but it articulates a sentiment that I can appreciate. There have been many times I've been absolutely frightened beyond what I thought I could handle, but just as many times I've gotten to experience the growth that comes with making a decision about that fear. I remember hiking the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls as a kid and having to deal with some serious fear--it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other. One. Step. At. A. Time. Same thing the first time I did the cables on Half Dome (and second time, because apparently I like that sort of thing). Many moments while climbing--usually when I pause, or at an anchor--I have suddenly felt aware of my fear and had to choose to act despite being afraid.
And it's not some high I'm chasing. I experience no flood of overwhelming emotion when I reach an objective. I am glad when I reach my goals, but I appreciate the process as well. For this reason, I find that I rarely cry at what are supposed to be monumental events, like graduations and weddings. I've had time to consider the implications of failure and success and decide how I would like to respond.
On Sunday, I was frightened. I was inexplicably nervous the entire day I was at the dropzone. I am perhaps most fearful at takeoff, because it is the moment of commitment. Once that plane is in the air, I have a very finite amount of time to mentally prepare for the skydive. I always review the process of the jump, from exit to landing, multiple times until I can see myself doing it completely--much like sending a difficult bouldering problem. When I realize my body is tense, I have to take a deep breath and exhale all the nervous energy.
Skydiving for me has become very much a process of evaluating the possible outcomes of a decision and accepting any of those outcomes. If I'm doing a formation jump, we might not complete the formation. If I'm trying a new skill, I might not be able to do it right away. If my parachute malfunctions, I may have to deploy my reserve. If I don't flare correctly when landing my canopy, I might have a hard landing. And then there's the always the possibility of factors I don't anticipate, like a midair collision or a strange wind or a double malfunction (neither parachute does its job), any of which could seriously injure or kill me or another person. How do you wrap your head around being okay with those outcomes? Any of them?
I'm not fearless. I don't claim to have fear all figured out. But I'm glad it's there. Fear forces me to make decisions and to learn from their consequences. Frankly, I'm afraid of a lot, and on a daily basis. But I can't let that fear incapacitate me. I can't be so afraid to fail that I don't try. And learning to apply that principle to other aspects of my life--relationships, career goals--is a challenge I'd like to accept.