“It’s okay, breathe, I won’t let you go! Just step back over the edge and keep your feet on the wall. The first step is the hardest part.” This is what was supposed to reassure me as I prepared to repel down the side of a medieval castle tower, or at least I thought that’s what the instructor said. The “anchor” holding my rope was the only one of the five that did not speak English. Luckily for me, I grew up in a very German family and at least had an inkling of what he was saying.
Taking his advice, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath in and tried to remember what exactly had inspired me to hike this mountain, climb those stairs, and entrust my life to this stranger at the other end of my rope. When I opened my eyes I had accidentally turned and what seemed like miles below me lay the beautiful city of Assisi, nestled in Italian countryside. Suddenly it wasn’t so hard to remember why I was there- because one of the wisest people I know showed me I needed to be, and she was right.
Since I can remember, and I’m sure before that as well, my grandmother has been one of the people I look up to most. As a teenager in Hitler’s Germany she had all of her rights stripped away from her, and has always made it clear to me how many opportunities I have. I’ve been an avid reader for most of my life; from The Berenstain Bears all the way up to Poe, Steinbeck, and Eliot. While she supports of my love of reading, my grandmother has always stressed that travel is just as important to my learning as anything else. I will never really know, feel, and understand anything until I experience it for myself. She’s always encouraged me to see the world, and when a letter came from People to People came offering me a spot as a student ambassador, my parents and I jumped on the chance.
After a week in Athens, Greece, my group took an overnight ferry to Italy and stayed with various families who agreed to host us. Later, we traveled by bus to Assisi, spent the morning discussing philosophy with a Franciscan Friar, and the better part of the afternoon hiking up a mountain topped with an enormous castle where we would receive a crash course on repelling.
All of us started the trek up the stairs, and about 2/3 of the group kept going until the top – I was among them. We stepped out onto the roof of the tower, and gasped in awe at the view. Once over the initial shock, we were each given a harness, a helmet, and an instructor. Then came the hard part: turning your back to open air, and taking the step to go over the edge, trusting yourself and your anchor not to let you fall.
Another gust of wind blew, shaking me back towards the wall, back to reality. I knew why I was there, to learn. I realize now that in every situation I face, there is always going to be a moment where I feel like my feet may never find that wall. After that experience, I have the ability to lean back, take the chance, and enjoy the view as I go down, and that is exactly what I did.