As I looked down, I had one thought: If this thing breaks, it’s gonna hurt. I was strapped in a harness connected to a young man standing on the ground below. His words were encouraging. “Keep going, you’re doing great! Don’t forget to keep looking ahead for your next foothold.”
But I wasn’t looking ahead. I was looking down, at the guy holding the ropes, at the little bitty piece of metal through which they passed. He looked younger than my son. Was he even old enough to shave? If I weighed more than he did (which was likely), would gravity suddenly kick in and yank him off the ground at the same rate that I plummeted toward it? And that’s assuming the metal carabiner binding the ropes didn’t bust apart. Oh, this wasn’t good—it wasn’t good at all.
Actually, I wasn’t that far off the ground. I was attempting a climbing wall at a fun park, surrounded by the team I worked with at church. They were encouraging me as well. “Keep going, Sherry! You’ve got this!”
It didn’t feel like I had anything. I was half holding, half dangling, with the straps awkwardly placed between my legs, my baby arms growing weaker by the minute.
The young man below repeated his earlier instructions: “Don’t worry about the harness or the ropes or me. Keep your eyes up, finding where you will place your hands and feet next. On belay, remember?”
I did remember. He had explained how the harness worked, how it was designed to handle a 300-pound person, how I was held securely even if I slipped or let go of the wall. The words on belay were his signal that I was anchored securely, not just to my harness or to him but to something secure, something immoveable. While the ropes passed through his hands to help me navigate my upward movement (or prevent my rapid descent), they were ultimately attached to a concrete structure that couldn’t be moved. Unfortunately, my baby arms and trembling legs weren’t cooperating. The footholds felt too small, too far apart, and I had to let go of one to grab hold of the next. I felt helpless and vulnerable, overwhelmed.1