My legs seemed to make the whole pole shake. It was my first time ever going to camp and I knew, I just knew it would tragically be my last. The wind would blow me off the telephone pole where I currently perched, the counselor wouldn’t be able to tighten the rope quickly enough and I would smack flat like a slushy onto the ground below.
I swallowed hard and bit my lip, fighting to make my legs not tremor.
Tall for my age, I was just big enough for what camp called “The Leap of Faith.” So was my best friend.
If she was going to do it, then I was going to do it. Athletic and bold, she went first. Once up the pole, you were supposed to jump out horizontally for a trapeze bar. My friend leapt, grabbed and held for a second, and then her body weight pulled her down. The counselor belayed her slowly and safely to the earth.
I observed the situation and began talking rationally to my fear. Be calm, Katy. Look at how fine that all was.
But as soon as I hoisted myself up on the top of that pole, I knew that I would not be reaching for any bar. I swayed, taking in the ant-like onlookers beneath, well aware of what I had feared as they tightened my harness on the ground—I had made a mistake.
The only thing that had me decently calm was the rope behind me. I’d reached my right hand back and wrapped my fingers around that rope. Never mind that I had no leverage or grounding. I had the rope.
The 2 ft. diameter pole felt like a pogo stick, which meant the mechanics of the whole scenario could not have mattered less to me. From the ground I could have deduced that my hand on that rope had zero influence…but up there, my hand seemed to be the only sane part of my entire being. HOLD ON!!!!! I exhaled carefully, focusing in order to not release the scream of terror locked inside.
“Katy!” my belayer called from below. “Katy you have to let go of the rope. It is really, really important.”
I glared with hatred and panic for the man and his suicidal instructions.
Most kids didn’t have my problem. Most kids couldn’t finagle their arms back far enough to securely grab the rope behind them. But me?
I’ve always been a master of tracking the chords that keep me safe. And I know how to hold on.
“Katy, let go.” He was firm. “We’re going to let go and jump out on three, ok? I have you; I’ll keep you safe.”
His conclusion about jumping felt reasonable…I’d have to get it over sometime. I gently loosened my grip on the rope, allowing my hand to float in the air, and while the countdown began I prayed to God I wouldn’t die.
Then on 3, I jumped. But as I jumped, I grabbed the rope again. And it burned the whole, slow way down as the counselor guided me to safety.
For the next decade, I carried a visible scar on my hand, a reminder that release, married with trust, is the hardest thing for me in the whole world.
“All great spirituality is about letting go,” writes Richard Rohr.
I read that this week and fell in love with the words. Turning to my journal, I began asking, “Where should I let go?” I assumed I knew what the answer would address.
But as I prayed and wrote, I didn’t get the answer I expected, nor one that I especially liked. Instead what came was, “EVERYWHERE. It’s called letting go!”
It’s not a person or a situation. It’s my life. I can’t switch one space of hyperawareness and grasping for another. I have to relinquish every single lifeline. That has never struck me as practical or feasible, so I’ve never done it.
And I find myself in a season where there have been a lot of rope burns, and I don’t think I can keep becoming myself if I don’t let the ropes all go.
I’m not saying I know how to do that exactly.
But the scar on my right hand has finally faded… I am no longer physically marked by the control I crave. Perhaps what once clamored inside me is not forever bound to that choice.
Katy Johnson lives, dreams, writes, and edits in a messy, watercolored world. She’s a 26 year old, discovering her hope, her longings, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called The Someday Writings, and someday, she may let those writings see the light of day. For now, she shares her thoughts here.