Hanging by a Thread - My Family Travels

           They say it gets easier after the first step. That the hardest part is leaning back, putting all of your trust in and weight on the cord that you’re gripping with sweaty hands, trying not to focus on the lack of stable ground beneath your feet. What had started out as slight uneasiness in my stomach had turned into sheer panic up on that ledge. My legs were stiff, unwilling to bend. I was half-blind from my relentless tears. But I willed myself to concentrate solely on those voices telling me this was the hardest part, replaying them over and over in my head until I managed to take that first step back. And, man, were they wrong.


            It started with the simultaneous clicks of forty-one harnesses latching. We were in Assisi, Italy, forty other kids and I, on the eleventh day of our People to People journey throughout Greece, Italy, and France. Travelling with the organization People to People meant that our trip was more than just a vacation; we were Student Ambassadors, and our trip was filled to the brim with service projects, cultural excursions, and interaction with locals. Today, however, was our Full-On day. The day we were expected to overcome our fears and build self-confidence. The day we were going to abseil off the top of a castle. 

            I was tightening my safety gear when it hit me – that uneasiness that I told myself would go away, would turn into excitement. But it didn’t. It grew when I secured my helmet. It grew with each step I took, each ominous stair leading up to the roof of the castle. The last two stairwells were so steep we had to use our hands and crawl to our final destination. This, of course, lessened my anxiety. The tears started when we reached the roof. They fell slowly and silently at first, then uncontrollably. I could hear laughter around me, the excited voices of those eager to go first. In the back of my mind I knew I should just go and get it over with, that the longer I waited the more hysterical I would get, that if I could just get past the first step I would be okay. But the thing about fear is that it doesn’t usually succumb to rational thinking.

            So I waited. I waited until the eager beavers jumped, then the runners-up, then the slightly wary until my turn inevitably came. I took that first step expecting some sort of relief from my terror up on that ledge, but I was wrong again. Each step down the wall was as difficult and terrifying as the preceding one. The hardest part wasn’t the first step; it was the whole trip.

            I hadn’t realized how great my acrophobia was until this day. Sure, I generally avoided ladders and dreaded the rock climbing unit in gym class, but now I know I’d be the perfect candidate for a remake of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. When I look back on this day, it scares me to think how close I was to backing out, to never taking that first step, because of my fear of heights. Even though I felt awful the whole way down, still – I rappelled off of a castle wall! If I had given up, I would have missed out on an experience I’ll never have again. Fear is truly paralyzing. It doesn’t always make sense, but it’s powerful enough to subdue, to hold back, to tame. Fear is what causes us to miss out on life. But I, for one, won’t stand for it anymore.

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