Free to Fall

There’s a scene in “Keeping the Faith” where Ben Stiller’s character is coaching a soon-to-be-bar-mitzvahed boy on embracing his breaking, mid-puberty voice, sing out strong and proud the lines in the ceremony that will bring him into manhood, to revel in the process necessary to this coming-of-age ritual. He tells the boy to say to himself “I love that I suck.” For some reason, this scene has been running through my head quite a bit in the last month or so.

On a spur-of-the-moment-but-then-postponed-a-week whim, a friend and I drove down to Austin yesterday for a day of knee-scraping, tricep-taxing climbing that was just what the doctor ordered. The nice thing about climbing with this particular tree frog-like friend is that he has all the necessary gear, knows exactly where to go, and his car gets something insane like 40 mpg. Also, every time I climb with him my ego takes a beating, which I’ve heard is character-building. Nothing like going out of your way to get knocked down a peg or two, I always say.

As we hiked over to the climbing area I didn’t notice the blue river to our left and the rustling of small animals off the path, concentrating as I was on matching TF’s steps over stones and logs, trying not to slip and break my ass before we’d even set up the ropes and opened the trail mix. We spent over four hours finding routes, greeting fellow climbers and pressing our faces up against rock, clawing at near-invisible dents in the cliff surface and reminding each other to “breathe,” “stay with it,” and “be patient.”

TF talks a lot about honoring your body and your limits, where you are that day and the fact that sometimes you’re just going to get your butt kicked by your own (lack of) skills. He has been climbing for six years, has a fluid grace that should have landed him in a rock climbing guidebook by now, and is one of the most supportive, positive people I’ve ever met. I climb with him not only for the unofficial lessons, but for the intriguing combination of being humbled and inspired at the same time.

That is how I felt when, at the top of the last climb of the day, I finally remembered to pause and look out at the view spread out around and below me, take in the impossible hue of the river below, feel the wind blowing its hint of rain in my face, and applaud the fact that I had just completed a medium-grade climb, in a very clumsy, kind of ugly, way. The same way I’d attacked all the other routes that afternoon, in fact. But, as TF pointed out, at least this day trip didn’t include a fall into a tree branch-enema situation…

We hiked out to the car, quietly content with the day, passing climbers who are out every weekend displaying a skill level I can only hope to reach someday in the far off future, and spent the four hour drive home alternating between childhood confessions, bitch sessions about some of the more annoying characters we’d encountered earlier, depression, families, and, of course, climbing, climbing, climbing. I told TF that I feel I am actually at my worst when I climb with him, but that there is freedom in accepting that- I can explore this passion without my pride getting in the way, without having to be the best. I thanked my friend for showing me how to honor myself and my limits, remind me to breathe, and keep me humbled and inspired at the same time.

It wasn’t a day of unleashing my inner badass, proving I’ve earned the climbing tattoo in the middle of my back, or even learning a new technique or conquering a difficult route. But it was a much-needed escape from the recent, just-trying-to-keep-my-head-above-water tempo of daily life, a day to let go of frustration and bond with a new friend. A friend who helps me remember to pause, look around, celebrate my progress and my potential, who laughs because he gets it when I tell him, in a shared moment of contentment, that “I love that I suck.”

1 comment:

Blogger Lisa said...

Yeay! Sounds like you've been in serious need of a great climb like that. Good for you, lady!

1:16 PM  

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