I’m hanging twenty or thirty feet in the air, clinging half way up a jagged rock face, feeling the sun blistering the skin on my back where I failed to reapply my SPF 50 sunscreen a third or fourth time. I’m hanging there because I’m thinking. And because I’m thinking, I’m not moving. I’m staring at a six foot crack in the rock, maybe two or three inches wide. And I’m thinking. Because the only way to get up the rest of this rock is to somehow shimmy by plump form up that crack to the next landing. And I’m thinking. And I’m still not moving.
It occurs to me that while this may be the first time I’ve ever gone rock climbing, the sharp holes I’ve managed to dig my fingers and toes into feel like home; it’s as if they’ve been holding my weight for years, as my breath speeds up, as I pop another blister on my thumb, as my muscles grow tired, as I glance down and see the ground spin slowly below me like a stopped up drain.
I have never been a particularly athletic person (shocker, I know), and every day physical duties are performed with all the grace of a giraffe in high heels. So it has always been my mind I’ve relied on, academic achievements trumping any minor bodily discipline. Yet, as I cling to this rock, hoping the ropes and knots and anchors don’t give, it occurs to me that it’s my mind that keeps getting in my way.
During both climbs on this day, the day of my first rock climbing experience, it is my mind that has chanted to me, all the way to the top, that you shouldn’t do this, you can’t do this, you’re an idiot for doing this, just go down now, just give up now before you kill yourself, before you embarrass yourself, you’re weak and not as clever as you think you are, you’re just not good enough.
It occurs to me that I hear this every day. It’s the reason I avoid looking directly into the mirror whenever possible. It’s the usual chant, but this time it’s more serious. This time I’m really in a pickle and if I don’t find a way to eat my way to freedom, I’m going to suffocate in this thing.
Since I’m tied to a rope and I got someone on the ground holding on and monitoring the rope tension, yes, truthfully, I could just give up and come on down.
But I’m clinging to a goddamned rock and frankly, giving up doesn’t seem that easy.
So for the first time in a long time, I muffle that voice. I tell that voice to shut the fuck up and go sit in it’s room and think about what it’s done. I breathe deeply. And I finally find the right balance and footing and climb up the crack in the rock.
There’s still more work to do of course. But I get to the top. And I stare at the desert, Joshua trees bending and bowing and twisting into the distance. And I think: this is what it feels like. This is breathing.
Everyone else is terrified of the going down part. The leaning back and trusting the people on the ground and the tension in the rope to hold you up as you walk on down. But this is the fun part. I bounce like I have no weight. There’s no gravity. For a few minutes I’m on the moon. I bounce up and do the splits in the air and lose my balance and crash, laughing, into the rock.
And I’ve never been more fucking graceful.