Thursday, September 17, 2009

I have the strength in my arms. They are trembling and tight like a sunburn has soaked through to the bone, but i know they can hold me. My legs are solid as I hug the wall with my body and pivot my toes just slightly back and forth on the gray stone where I stand, like crushing a cigarette.

I am stranded on the wall of vertical endeavors, St. Paul’s elite climbing gym. I am not stranded in the middle worn from fatigue. I am stranded at the top like a confident cat that climbs the largest tree in the neighborhood and then sits there perched in the branches howling for much needed and undeserving help. Then as if on cue the youth I mentor comes climbing into view and sidles up next to me. "What’s wrong?" She asks. Wrong? I think....

Earlier as we were stepping into our harnesses I told her I was pretty bad with heights, I think the word I used was terrified to be exact. She on the other hand, caught on right away. Moving her black skater shoes from Hot Topic, from one tiny rock ledge to another swiftly, she was always looking above her to the rock wall version of connect the dots.

Me, I worked my way up fairly easily and methodically, slowed only by the thought of coming down. As my youth and I clung there at the top of the wall, I knew there was only way down. While I would love to say I showed her a great mentoring lesson in facing your fears, she in fact taught me: she proclaimed that we were going to go down together on the count of three.

She counted to three and then yelled come on as I hesitated a split second more. We repelled down the wall together and at first I hated the feeling of butterflies in my stomach, too much of a free fall for me! But after the first and second push, I couldn’t believe how secure I felt flying away from the wall and floating down. Granted, I was reeling toward a rubberized floor and was hooked into the wall!

When we reached the bottom I hugged my youth. She helped me face my fear and saved me from the humiliation of a grown woman fearfully climbing back down a wall with eleven year olds reeling down around her. It was right then and there after my first successful climb up and down that knew I was doing the right thing by being a mentor.

It was rewarding in more ways than one, she taught me about teamwork and about encouraging each other. I needed that. And I needed all the other lessons that I, myself, was going to learn over the next year.


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