There’s nothing quite like it: being high up on a wall, just a rope to keep you from plummeting to the ground if your hands or feet slip. The rope and the person holding it.
I used to go indoor rock climbing occasionally when I was in high school. And I trusted my climbing partner. I knew when I said “falling” and let go of the wall, I wouldn’t hit the ground.
It’s hard to climb if you don’t trust the person belaying you. It makes you overly cautious. It keeps you from reaching out to that rock that you can probably sort of reach…. maybe. With her, I knew I could take the risks I wanted to. Even if I slipped, I was safe.
The camp I worked at also had a climbing wall. An outdoor one, with warped wooden beams. It was one of the first days of summer when I got the chance to climb it. The journey up wasn’t bad. The problem was, instead of just leaning back and rappelling down, we had to climb back down.
I can’t explain how freaky it is. When you’re going up, you can see what you’re reaching for, the rope tight because you’re moving toward it. But going down? You can’t see so much, at least not without shifting your body away from the wall which makes the likelihood of slipping so much higher. And the rope has to be loose in order to let you move in the opposite direction. But I tried to focus on the task at hand and not overthink it.
I had nearly made it to the ground when my foot landed on a rock that was loose. In two seconds, it swiveled and dumped me.
And I fell.
The rope caught me several feet later, inches before my toes hit the ground, but what really broke my fall was a pair of arms, belonging to the camp director, aka our camp dad.
“You okay?” he asked.
I nodded. “Um, yeah.” I mean, I was alive. So that was good. But I looked down at my feet. “My legs are shaking,” I noted. Adrenaline, I guessed.
“I know. That’s why I’m still holding onto you, okay?”
It’s a good feeling, to have someone there who can catch you. To wonder how your fall is going to end, only to be caught by a person or a rope.
I hope you have friends like that. Ones you know will always be there. Ones who will hold that rope for you no matter how long the climb takes. And who will reach out for you, the moment your foot slips.