When I was little, I remember my older brother egging me on to do daring things. He liked that I was more of a risk-taker than my sister. Later I loved roller coasters and other adventurous activities. In my twenties . . . let’s just say I did some risky things without thinking twice. I don’t see myself as person who is afraid to do something exciting.
The Tarzan swing was simply a step off a platform while attached to a cable, so there was no danger of falling. The platform was twelve meters high. We’d already zipped over the forest canopy, a hundred feet or more, so twelve meters should be nothing, right? But, the view from the platform wasn’t especially notable, and the stairs went straight up. I’d done plenty of walking already, and didn’t think I needed the thrill. It was optional, so maybe I’d sit this one out. But my daughters would hear none of it. They’re seven and ten, and full of the enthusiasm of youth. My mother-in-law Pat wasn’t sure she needed the Tarzan swing either, but she doesn’t say no to the girls much. They ran ahead of us up the hill to the bottom of the stairs. “Who’ll go first?” “Baba!” (That’s Pat.)
So everyone in the group decided to do it. I hung back, but the girls pushed Pat to the front of the group. She didn’t seem thrilled to go first, but, like I said, she’s not one to say no. Did she have to do it? She did it. Then the kids, my husband, brother-in-law, his girlfriend, and everyone else in the group, except for one other person who thought it would make her sick.
I’m not a sucker for peer pressure. I can say no. But if my sixty-five-year-old mother-in-law can take the jump, surely I ought to be able to, n’est ce pas? If I’m forty-eight and afraid to do adventurous things, what will I be like when I’m sixty-five? What kind of grandmother will I be?
I decided I wasn’t going to let my mother-in-law be more adventurous than I. I would jump. I didn’t know how, but I would find a way. I tried to think of scary things I’d done. Surely there’ve been plenty. All I could think of was finally getting years of back taxes filed, which was an overwhelming task I’d been positive I couldn’t do. (The refunds funded this trip.) But sitting at a desk under a pile of papers didn’t even seem scary compared to this, so that didn’t help. I thought of that Alanis Morissette song, how did it go? Something like, the minute I jumped off was the minute I touched the ground. Thank you. Thank you India. I liked the song. But it was just a song.
The guide on the platform gave a couple people a bit of a nudge on the back when they hesitated. I thought about telling him to push me. But it might be even scarier to be pushed than to step off voluntarily. When I got to the platform, I told him, “I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Just put your hands right here,” he said reassuringly.
I made myself breathe. I held onto the harness attaching me to the cable. It would hold me anyway, had been tested already, there was nothing to be afraid of, but I was terrified. All I had to do was hold on, and take one step.
He opened the gate. Panic. “I can’t—” I said, and grabbed the railing. Holding onto the railing felt better, even with that gaping opening that threatened to suck me down.
Very calmly, he said, “I need you to put both hands here.”
Yes. Do what he says. It’s probably safer that way, maybe if I fell while holding onto the rail I’d go sideways and tear a knee ligament or something. That would be worse than just doing it the right way. I just have to do it.
I put both hands in place and didn’t wait to be pushed. I closed my eyes and stepped forward.
Half a second of freefall.
Then the cable caught, and it was just like any old playground swing.
It seemed like I should be smiling and laughing, but I didn’t feel happy. When asked how it was, I said, “I did it.” It seemed like that should be triumphant. I’d conquered my fear. I’d beaten the Tarzan swing. But I didn’t feel triumphant either. I just wanted to be back on the ground.
And that seemed wrong too. The whole point of the tour was to have fun, and, no matter hard I looked inside, I couldn’t find any enjoyment there. Maybe it was a waste of money. Maybe I should have stayed back with my father-in-law and enjoyed the entomology museum. I love entomology. Was I just trying to prove I’m not a stick in the mud?
Sitting at my desk here in Kansas, listening to coyotes howl outside, I don’t know the answer to that. But I find if I had the chance right now, I’d march myself right up to that platform and do it again, acrophobia be damned. Because now I know I can, and I’m not going through life dancing with fear like a friend, I’m going to jump right into it. Go ahead fear, suck all the fun out of a day, but you do not win.
Later I told Pat that I’d done it because I didn’t want to be less adventurous than my mother-in-law, and she told me earnestly that she wasn’t sure she was a good role model.