Wow! I am 4 months into this thing. Time is going by so quickly I almost can't breathe. Sometimes I want it to slow down a little. Other times I wish next May would just hurry up and get here. As I mentioned in my previous post, some say the Camino begins the minute you decide to walk it. That is true for me. My Camino has begun. And it's not easy. Right now, I can't even find it in me to say that I know it will be worth it. Over the past week or two, I've been looking for a way out. An excuse why I can't do it. I'm pretty good at coming up with those excuses. I just wish I was better at coming up with the reasons why I should do it. But each time I get to the point where I'm ready to quit, something comes along to remind me why I shouldn't. This time my reminder came from my beautiful niece, Maggie. But first, let me tell you about this past Friday.
I believe in life there are ultimately only two ways to live. No matter what choices you make, they come from one of these two places, which are mutually exclusive. You choose one or the other. Never both. Fear or love. The good thing is that if you choose fear, love doesn't give up on you. It's always waiting in the wings, hoping you will change your mind, and ready to support you when you do. Lately, I have been choosing fear over love. I find myself struggling to find my center. I can see it from where I am, but I just can't seem to get there from here. That all comes down to my continued unwillingness to do the work. I know what I need to do. I'm just not doing it. And so the lessons of the Camino come to greet me. Lessons to be learned, sometimes the hard way.
This past Friday, I jumped from a plane for the second time and landed safely on earth, once again a changed person. This time, however, it wasn't the immediately uplifting experience I had the first time. As I think back over the events of that day, I see the purpose much more clearly now that a couple of days have passed. I was very excited to skydive again. This time I knew what to expect and I was looking forward to remembering some of the things that are a little foggy, or gone completely, from the first time. The initial step out of the airplane, for instance. That moment from my first jump seems to be permanently blocked from memory. This time, I wanted to stand at the edge of the door, looking 13,000 feet down to the ground, and consciously take the leap. I got my wish, but not necessarily in the way I thought I wanted.
We loaded up on the plane, and headed off into the wild blue yonder, packed in like sardines. I remembered my tandem instructor from the first jump saying, "If you're comfortable sitting in the plane, you're doing it wrong." Having suffered from severe claustrophobia for many years, I was surprised that this didn't bother me very much. Maybe it was the focus on what I was about to do that kept me from feeling the closeness of the cramped airplane. For whatever reason, it wasn't an issue on the first jump in May, and it wasn't an issue this time. That is, until my instructor started tightening my straps. Let me just explain, that prior to this jump, my friends Teri and Lisa, who were joining me for their first tandem jump, had been talking about the 80-year old woman who had come out of her harness, dangling loosely until she and her instructor thankfully landed safely.
Although I wasn't really worried about that happening to me, as my instructor began to tighten the straps on my harness, I started to feel the beginning of claustrophobia. I knew I could breathe my way through that fear as I had done on many occasions. Find a comfortable spot in my head and just breathe. This discomfort was necessary. After all, I didn't want to fall out of my harness. And then it happened. He tightened the last strap which was across my stomach and suddenly I couldn't breathe. Well, I could breathe, but I felt like I couldn't take in a full breath. In an instant, my claustrophobia came roaring to life and a panic attack took over. I honestly don't know what kept me from just ripping at those straps and losing it completely. I remember making the choice to fight the fear. It was a moment I will never forget. The strength came from somewhere outside of me, and deep within me, all at once. Just breathe. In and out. In through my nose and out through my mouth. I briefly wondered what would happen if I hyperventilated and passed out midair. I quickly put that particular thought aside. And I breathed in and out as best I could.
Somehow the experienced jumpers sitting around me noticed what was happening. I don't know if they alerted my instructor, or if he alerted them. All I know is that I heard someone say, "We'll get out of the way so you can get her out of the plane." How embarrassing! There were a couple of single jumpers sitting in front of me. They scooted forward. I don't know if they moved out of the way, or if they jumped out ahead of me. All I know is I wanted out of that cramped space, and I needed air. We got to the edge of the doorway. I made sure, through the panic, to focus on the first step out into the nothingness. No matter what was happening, I was going to remember that moment this time. The second I took the leap, it took my breath away, just like last time, but when I was able to take in my first breath, It was normal and full and glorious. I could breathe again. Even at 17,500 feet above sea level, with very little oxygen in the air around me. I could breathe. I kept hearing my instructor say, "I got you. I got you." At least I think it was him. I don't know, maybe it was someone else letting me know I was OK.
When I got home that afternoon, and had time to reflect back on the day, the negative self-chatter began. Instead of congratulating myself for fighting through the fear in order to experience something I loved, I instead let the memory of the fear take over. I cried off and on all evening. The tears were expected. I had the same thing happen after my first jump. But my incredible ability to beat myself up over the claustrophobia incident was unexpected. I began to try to convince myself that if I shut myself off enough, if I avoided doing things that challenged me physically and spiritually, then I could avoid having to ever face fear like that again. Instead of reminding myself that I had faced that fear head on and won, I began to look for ecape routes from facing other fears. I don't want to do this any more. Let me off the ride. Make it stop. I'm willing to live the unlived life. Just don't make me face anything like that again. I already know the other fears I have to heal, and I don't want to heal them. I'm happy keeping those fears, and myself, safe and sound in a world of ordinary. And while I'm at it, I no longer want to do the Camino. It's too much. I can't do it. I'm not strong enough.
And then I got the news that would remind me that, not only am I strong enough, but it is necessary for me to continue to live that way. It's not just for me. These things I do in my life, both right and wrong, are an example to others. Most importantly, to the kids in my life, who are all courageous beyond belief, but who sometimes need a little encouragement to remember that they are brave, so they don't miss out on life.
My niece, Maggie, has been invited to study abroad next summer as part of some leadership conferences that she has attended. She will visit both London and Paris. What an amazing opportunity for her! I am so proud of her for the wonderful person she is, and continues to become. But I know that as the time approaches, and the reality sets in, she will begin to doubt her ability to spend that time so far away from home. What if it's too much? What if she can't do it? What if she's not strong enough? My answers to those same questions in my life will be her example. What do I want that example to be?
Fear or love?
All I know is that when it gets to be too much, and I can't breathe, and the fear threatens to overtake me, all I have to do is take that leap. And when I do, there will always be someone telling me, "I got you."
For the record, I AM walking the Camino next May. Don't let me tell you - or myself - any differently.
"When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you." ~Mary Stevenson 'Footprints in the Sand'