I tried to complete a children’s rope course about five years ago. If you are unfamiliar, these are bridges and scary obstacle type things about ten or fifteen feet in the air. You pay good money to walk across these rope contraptions while wearing a harness that someone says will save you from certain death or at least broken limbs if you miss your footing and fall. I am not referring to the adult versions that are really high up and in actual forests, but the smaller, commercialized version.
All I can say is that it seemed like a good idea at the time. We were staying at an indoor water park (where my mother had nearly drowned earlier in the day) and I was tired of being wet. Since I had brought no practical attire, I wore my pajama bottoms and my mother’s shoes, as flip-flops were verboten. (And a shirt! Just to clarify, I also wore a shirt of some sort.)
The boys were around four and seven years old, and eagerly followed the guide up to the highest levels of the course. I managed to walk across one little rope bridge and then clung to the support beam in utter terror, demanding that the teenaged guide return my children to me before they plummeted to their deaths. The guide laughed and ignored me. It turned out that while I was a fearless child, I am a very fearful grownup.
Last Friday I took my children to an entertainment center as a reward for their outstanding report cards. It had bumper cars, laser tag, a rock wall, and a ropes course. I paid the $8 for my very own ticket to climb the ropes. It was time to face my fear.
I have to admit that I was reassured that this time I was not required to sign a waiver promising not to sue if they killed off my children or myself. They either had great faith in their safety harnesses or really bad lawyers. I was quite sure that this was going to go just swimmingly until I had to step off the first platform and onto a rope bridge and had to cross about eighteen inches of open air. I chanted I don't like this I don't like this I don't like this in my head alternating with why the f*ck did I do this why the f*fuck did I do this?
My heart was pounding so hard it actually hurt, and I wondered if there was a cardio benefit to adrenaline fueled terror. Of course, I also wondered if heart-pounding fright might be a bad thing, and if my heart might actually burst from fear. All of this wondering was not getting me across the bridge, so I reluctantly let go of the pole and gripped the rope attaching my harness to the safety line and stepped over the empty space. I reasoned that my fitness regime had probably given me the upper body to strength needed to dangle from a rope for a semi-reasonable amount of time if it came to that.
I crossed the first bridge. I did not enjoy a single minute of it, nor did I feel any sense of accomplishment. I was hoping for a rush of exaltation when I successfully reached the other side. Nothing. All I had was dread that I now had to cross another stupid freaking air bridge. I wondered how many of these things I had to cross for my children to notice what a good example I was being by facing my fear.
The children in question were actually paying zero attention to me. They were happily cavorting on the various obstacles and ignoring me completely. I had not only spent $8 on self-torture, but they really couldn't care less about my positive role-modeling. It didn’t even count as quality togetherness time, since they were so far ahead of me.
I decided to cross half the bridges, and only the not too scary ones. I learned that if you don’t look down it’s not so horrendously terrifying. I spent a lot of time in gratitude for the traction of my shoes. After I crossed the first half, it seemed silly not to finish the course, utilizing my patented cling-to the-safety-line-with-a-death-grip technique.
The ropes course wasn’t busy and since I didn’t have anything else to do, I decided to keep crossing bridges until the pain in my chest subsided. I did the easy ones, the hard ones, and even the freaking really terrifying plank walk. I stopped being afraid, but I didn’t really enjoy the experience. Perhaps if I had completed an ultra-scary adult course I'd feel a sense of exhilaration, but the kiddie verison? Not so much.
I wouldn’t go out of my way to do another ropes course. But I did get something for my $8: I learned that if I am ever in a situation where my life depends on my ability to cross a tightrope to save humanity, I have a decent chance of survival—at least, as long as I have decent shoes, a reliable safety harness, and a recent saftey inspection certificate for the obstacle at hand.
Copyright © 2019 Lara Lillibridge
Public domain imagery courtesy of Snappygoat.com