Saturday, 16 April, 2005

Debra Walks Down a Wall

Debra and I are in Harlingen, Texas attending the annual alumni reunion at the Marine Military Academy.

Having visited the school for the last 10 reunions, Debra and I had become a little tired of the Saturday festivities: alumni business meeting, campus tours, and other such things. We always avoided the rappelling tower and climbing wall because of my shoulder injury and Debra's fear of heights, opting instead to make a trip to Mexico for a few hours of shopping and some good tacos.

We didn't feel like going to Mexico today, and with my shoulder improving I thought I'd like to give rappelling a try. Debra even said "we'll see" when I mentioned rappelling--a far cry from the "no way in hell" response that I expected, considering how much she dislikes high places.

For me, a dedicated adreneline junkie from way back, rappelling was just another chance to learn something new and maybe get a little bit of a rush. Debra, on the other hand, wasn't too sure about the whole thing. But she stood there at the base of the tower calmly listening to the instructor's briefing and muttered "I can't believe I'm doing this" as she strapped on the harness and donned gloves and helmet.

She tried to talk herself out of it while we stood in line at the top of the tower, but she stepped right up when her turn came. There's no doubt that she was scared as she stood there listening to the tower master's instructions, and her legs were shaking when it came time to turn her back and step over the edge. I know she was terrified, but she worked her way through the fear and soon she was standing on the wall, supported by the rope. Then Major Compton said "Debra, I can't pull you back up. You'll have to walk down that wall." She hesitated a bit, got control of her breathing, and then slowly worked herself down the wall to the cheers and encouragement of everybody watching.  Click the pictures for a larger images with more context.

I've heard people before say things like, "I was scared, but I did it anyway." I remember well the first time I stood in the open door of a C-47, preparing to jump out and trust my life to the scrap of fabric strapped to my back. But I've never before watched a person overcome a fear that she had held onto and nurtured so lovingly. Debra was dedicated to her fear of heights.

The difference between the cowardly and the courageous isn't a lack of fear--only idiots are fearless--but rather that cowards allow their fears to control them while stalwarts acknowledge their fear and control themselves in spite of it. Rappelling and similar adreneline-charged activities are ideal motivators because they are safe and quick ways to teach people how to function in spite of fear--to stretch beyond their comfort zones in search of higher accomplishments.