Missed opportunities; it is a theme in my life.
My lacrosse playing youth, my college enrollment(s), a brief move across the country, career paths abruptly changing, a yearlong relocation that never ended, and once again, the love of a good woman… and that’s just to name a few.
From another vantage, however, they are passed opportunities. I had a hand in every decision that led to every outcome. It is easy to forget that, especially soon after opportunity passes. The dawning of realization casts a harsh light.
Sometimes opportunities just come along, more often though, opportunities are created. They rise from ideas and effort and teeter on the brink of irrelevance through their every stage. Without a committed guiding hand, even the best opportunities are sure to slip away.
I recently went on a push to make some opportunities happen. I have ideas at times, lots of ideas; sometimes, too many ideas. Towards the start of winter last year, I found some drive, some ambition. In the ensuing swell, I took on a handful of ideas, like this blog and other online presences, and began to spin them about, much like a plate spinner performing at a fair.
At the end of a week long adventure to Joshua Tree National Park last week, I returned home to a metaphorical earthquake beneath my feet. I was finally coming down from my epic climb and the ground that I expected to be solid was not so. Stumbling back home and eventually heading out to the office for another day in the life, I saw my plates losing their balance and began wondering why I had put them up there in the first place.
Who am I to be putting myself out there in the world? What did I think my ideas and ambitions would lead to? My end goals are so farfetched when really said aloud that the fun steps along the path begin to seem like acts of lunacy. And so, I found myself stuck. Do I delete my efforts to date and try forgetting my false starts or do I press on, not knowing where I’m really headed, risking humiliation at the mercy of my doubtful mind?
The answer, of course, was found in a climbing analogy.
I fancy myself an 11d sport climber; here in Minnesota that is. I have a 12a under my belt, but, I hear that is soon to be downgraded, which reaffirms my 11d mind frame. Out in Joshua Tree, I opted into leading a 5.6 “sport” climb; one hundred feet, four bolts, one flake, and a slab finish. I barely thought about it. With a handful of borrowed cams on my belt and a stash of my usual quick draws, I started up. I quickly became uncertain, however, after sinking three cams between the first and second bolt on the only flake of the climb, all of a fifteen foot span. Ahead of me, only slab and the very few bolts deemed appropriate for a Joshua Tree 5.6.
I don’t have much experience on slab. The further on I got, the less holds there actually were and the more open palm slopers I had to rely on for hands and feet as I navigated what had become a gently arcing mogul field. Growing more and more nervous, I shouted down to my belayer, “I’m kind of freaking out up here, man”, from somewhere below the third bolt. Once at that bolt, I took and checked in on my heart rate. My chest was visibly expanding and contracting while the deafening sound of my heartbeat was slow to resolve.
Once rested again, I looked ahead to the fourth and final bolt before the route arced out of sight. Twenty-five feet, give or take. It seemed to be a light year away. I readied myself and seized the opportunity in front of me. About fifteen feet later, though, I stopped, paralyzed. There was no way that I could back down and moving forward had stopped being an option. I was out of my element, relying on sharp but rounded nubs threatening to tear my face off should I even slip an inch on my way to a thirty foot fall, or drag, more accurately.
What am I doing here? There is no way out of this. My mind had taken control of my movement and my mind was not happy. We were not going anywhere together. I was gripped with fear.
It took some time, but finally I remembered who I was, where I had been, what I was capable of doing. I had not come that far to be shut down by fear or doubt. If I was to fail, it would be trying. It would be reaching and pushing and pulling with whatever was left in me, knowing the goal ahead and knowing beyond that was still a mystery.
The fourth bolt was soon mine and beyond it was a gentle walk to the top.
When I reached the anchors, graciously placed at the start of the second headwall, flat ground under foot, I sat down and wept, unashamed, unrestrained. However irrational the fear that I felt on a slab 5.6 might have been, it was altogether real and overcoming that overwhelmed me.
My companions would later climb this route in turn with the rope I left behind and each suggest that I give it a run on top rope, remarking what fun it was. I don’t doubt that they were right, but time did not allow and, honestly, I am glad. It was a humbling experience, a reminder of the importance of remaining present and committed and to never disregard a moment as unworthy of the fullest attention and care.
And so it is with writing, and taking and sharing photos and video (and love, for that matter). I presented myself with this opportunity, an opportunity of expression. I find myself at a crux and have been considering backing down. Maybe what I need is to find a comfortable rest spot, take some breaths, stop my Elvis leg, shake out my arms, and when I’m ready again, climb on.
Oh look, a knee bar.
Post originally written 3/19/12