Don’t Look Down

Updated: Aug 20


In 2009, my husband, Judah, and I went on a Caribbean cruise, just the two of us.


Judah is one of my absolute favorite people on the planet, and I love spending time with him, but we are about as opposite as they come.


He is very physically adventurous. He grew up skiing, snowboarding, riding dirt bikes, spelunking (think small spaces in caves), doing gymnastics … you get the idea. He’s not afraid of heights.


I am adventurous with words and creative ideas. When my body is involved, I like my feet safely on the ground.


This particular cruise had a rock climbing wall. Sweet! What a perfect adventure for the two of us. Judah can be physically daring, and I can give it a go without actually being on the side of a cliff somewhere.


I AM afraid of heights.

We’re on the cruise ship, and we make our way to where the rock climbing wall is on the 16th floor. The way the ship is designed, the higher floors are narrower. The climbing wall is outdoors on a deck where you can see out over several of the ship’s floors below.


We suit up, and I climb first. I’m attached to this cute kid who might be 20 and is responsible for making sure I don’t die. I couldn’t be in better hands.


I start to climb.


This is pretty cool. I feel safe knowing I’m attached to another human. It’s a rock climbing wall on a cruise ship, so it isn’t super hard. They want you to have a good time, after all.


“Smile!”


Judah has his camera out to document the adventure. He is so proud of me.


I look down to smile for the photo … and lose my ever-loving mind. Fear. Panic. Terror. My body gets instantly hot.


When I look down, I not only see Judah, I see down all 16 floors of the cruise ship and into the ocean below. Probably a good time to note I’m also afraid of drowning.


I freeze.


“Get me down.”


“What?”


“Get me down … now.”


“But you’re only a few feet off the ground,” he says with a chuckle as if he thinks I’m kidding.


I am not.


My feet are not even as high as Judah’s head, which means my head is maybe 8-10 feet from the ground … from the ground of the 16th floor of the cruise ship. Not from the ocean below!


The 20-something realizes I’m not joking around and kicks into high gear.


“Just let go of the wall.”


“I can’t.”


“You have to let go of the wall, ma’am.”


“Oh, I heard you, but I’m telling you I can’t. My fingers won’t loosen.”


Every fiber of my being believed that if I loosened my grip, I would fall 16 floors into the ocean and drown. This was life or death.


“Lean back into your harness.”


I bent my shaking knees enough to sit my butt back into the “safety” of the harness, enough to feel that he actually had me. I was able to loosen my grip and slowly allow my full weight into the rope and harness-pulley-system that some amazingly smart person created to keep people like me from dying while rock climbing … a wall.

Once my feet were safely on the ground, I was ready to try again. Unfortunately, there seemed to be a line of other people who also wanted to give it a go, so I had to pass my harness on to the next crazy adventurer.


As we walked away from the wall, I felt so stupid for my reaction. Logic says that I was only 8-10 feet in the air. Had I simply hopped down on my own, I would have been fine. Why was it so hard to relax my grip, to lean in to trusting another person?


If I could do it over again, I would have asked to hang close to the ground before climbing. To feel what it would be like to hang from the rope without touching the wall. Once I knew the feeling of safety, I could take the risk. But I didn’t know that when I was 8 feet up a wall, 16 floors up a ship.


I didn’t succeed at rock climbing on that cruise, but I have gone indoor rock climbing since. An instructor spent time with me, explaining the gear and the relationship between the climber and the belayer (the person on the ground who is tethered to you by a rope), allowing me to climb a little at a time and then sit in the harness to feel what it feels like to put my life in someone else’s hands.


Sometimes you have to fail, in a non-life-or-death situation, in order to know deep down that you can take a risk, trust someone else, freak out, and not actually die.

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