It was one of those perfect fall hiking days where conditions, temperaments and energy all aligned. The air was crisp and cool. The sun, honey gold in the sky. Autumn leaves, kaleidoscope canopies alight in resplendent jewel tones. Bodies rested, bellies full, we set out to make it to the top of Tahquitz Peak and the ranger station that looks out across the forest and the valley beyond.
We enjoyed a long, lovely morning winding through the trees, hardly noticing the elevation with our spirits so high.
As we climbed, the trail narrowed. The peak was not far now. But the path forward took us out of the woods and along the cliffside. Gorgeous. And, terrifying. Especially as that crisp, cool air whipped into wind and I eyed the steep drop-off.
Step by shaky step, I went. I held my breath as I watched my whole world balance on the edge.
We always tell my son to be the jelly. My partner and I are the bread. Together, we are a sandwich. He, out ahead, clearing the path and leading the way. Me, behind, watching to make sure the jelly’s okay.
Most of the time, this role consists of making sure everyone is keeping pace and mitigating disagreements over whether and when one should stop to take breaks, pictures or refreshment. In times like these, though, it also means I’m watching my heart and soul walk outside of my body. Outside of my control. And, I feel viscerally, not only my own fear, but my fear for him.
We are thoughtful about the paths we choose. Safety is always top of mind. But, even though my logical brain knew that the trail was safe, I was gripped by what-if’s as the wind hit us and I saw a rock tumble down the face of the cliff.
Not wanting my fear to be contagious, I tried not to let it show. For a number of reasons, not the least of which that we would all be more at risk panicked.
I thought about turning back… But, we were so close.
As we inched nearer, my son turned to me and said, “Mom, I’m scared. I don’t think I can do it.” Except, I knew he could. I knew we both could. We just needed to push past the fear somehow.
So, I mustered up my calm and my courage. I told him I was scared too. Sometimes, simply saying it out loud can be so powerful. I also told him, from a deep place of knowing, that we could do it. And, I coached him through it (in doing so, coaching myself). One step at a time. Holding onto each other’s hands. Encouraging each other with each footfall. Shifting our focus to love and support, bravery and strength.
These greater energies eclipsed our fear and we made it. The glow of pride and the world’s brightest smile beamed from my son’s face as he processed what he’d just traversed. Not only physically, but mentally.
However, before we got to that point, we shared this tender moment of really feeling it. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but it felt like grieving. Maybe for that scared part of ourselves out on the ledge and pushing through. The part we couldn’t really let surface as we tried our best to hold it together to persevere. That felt beautiful and important too.
Once again, we found ourselves holding both. Scared and excited. Brave and afraid. Longing to stop but determined to go on. Grieving and celebrating.
As we toured the ranger’s station and ate our lunch on a large rock soaked in sunshine and overlooking the valley below, I reflected on fear.
In my experience, fear is a constant. Especially if we are pushing ourselves to our edge. If we seek to stretch every day. But, some days, we move forward anyway. Within reason, of course, but I think that is the work. Knowing we will never be fearless, how can we be brave? We must trust that, even though we can’t see the path all the way to its peak, even though it is beyond our comfort zone, persevering will be worth it. Persevering is possible. We have what it takes.