I had managed to clip the ropes into the metal loops on my safety belt, and I began to climb the ladder. I was about to have my first flying trapeze lesson, and the first step was to make it up to the top of the platform. Someone on the ground reminded me to hold onto the rungs ahead of me instead of the sides of the ladder, and a vision of the whole ladder toppling to the ground with me under it flashed through my mind. I felt safer gripping the rungs, though still a little shaky. I kept climbing.
I’m afraid of heights and even more afraid of falling, but I had come to this class with my co-workers determined to face that fear head on. The instructors praised me for making it to the top, affirming that the hardest part, that long climb, was over, and now all I had to do was fly. I didn’t believe them.
For me, the hardest part was believing that my body could do something that I thought was impossible. The hardest part was believing wholeheartedly – enough to jump – that I was strong enough. I wasn’t convinced that my body would listen to me, and I knew myself well enough to know that if I didn’t believe it was possible, it wasn’t going to happen. So I waited for some faith. And when it didn’t come right away, I waited some more, and then I looked for it. I needed a few moments on top of that platform, holding on for dear life before I let go.
My faith started to surface not when I thought and bickered with myself harder and harder, not when I tried to reason myself out of sheer panic, but when I turned off my brain and trusted. The whole experience, the instructor reminded me, was designed to feel like the scariest thing in the world, but to be one of the safest. From the moment I clipped my belt into the ropes on the ground to the moment that my feet were back on the ground, I was completely and totally safe. Someone was holding those ropes, and they were not going to let anything bad happen to me. They promised.
I didn’t think about this until later, and only then with some prompting and prodding, but the work that I do, the hard work of advocacy, is based in large part on faith too. I don’t always have faith in the long and tortuous legislative process, but sometimes it comes through. I do have faith that the ripples of my work help move my corner of the world towards justice.
At the trapeze rig, the instructors gave me a choice. I could turn around and climb back down the ladder to get to the ground, or I could fly down. It was as simple as that. The faith came after I made my choice. Not being one to back down from a challenge, I chose to fly. The faith came when I could close my eyes for a moment, and through the teary panic, see myself flying and landing safely. The faith came when I knew that I would be safe and loved no matter what. And I flew.
I make the choice to conquer the choking fear I feel when the news tells me that the world is un-savable. I make the choice to be an advocate and an ally because so many others are silenced, and I can speak. And I know I’m not working alone. I’m surrounded by smart and passionate colleagues who challenge me to reflect upon and live out my deepest values. I am grateful for their accompaniment on this path.
My faith came from my ability to see through fear and despair into hope. My faith came from my ability to visualize the future, to see where I am in relation to those around me, to locate myself and my gifts and to use them to make change. I will always be learning. At my first trapeze lesion, even though flying only meant swinging from the bar and landing without any fancy tricks, everyone told me that I was the one who had done the most work that night. I was the one who had accomplished the most because I crossed the long distance between fear and flying, and then I made the leap.