I am terrified of heights. I don’t think terrified even begins to do the all-consuming fear justice. And it’s a finicky thing, fear.
I’m not scared of a being in a tall building or even flying in a plane. I used to really like rock climbing, and even though I haven’t done it in ages, I probably would still enjoy it.
I’m scared of heights I can free fall from. I’m scared of open ledges, of looking over mountains, or driving places places that have drop-offs (even when there are guard rails).
So during this road trip, you can imagine that that’s been a problem… since, um, EVERY SINGLE WESTERN STATE HAS INSANE MOUNTAINS, CLIFFS, LEDGES, AND PLUMMET-TO-THE-BOTTOM CANYONS.
Sorry. I got a little carried away there. Let’s regroup.
I’m scared of heights and my poor husband has had to do most of the driving and hiking around those heights by himself. He patiently listened to me freaking out and breathing like I was about to deliver a baby as we inched our way over the Pacific Coast Highway. He coaxed me up the Sentinel Dome trail in Yosemite until I nearly started hysterically crying.
And today, at Canyon de Chelly, John hiked the majority of a switchback trail alone as I sat on a red rock outcropping. I felt awful, but I knew I had maxed out my abilities. I had imagined all of the worst-case scenarios as we walked down a steep cliff carved into the canyon wall. There were no guardrails. There was just air and then rocks hundreds of feet at the bottom of the canyon.
Even typing it, my hands are beginning to sweat. (Classy, I know.)
I sat in the outcropping, watching the afternoon shadows climb down the canyon walls, watching John turn into a tiny blob of khaki shorts and green shirt. Every so often a person or two would come by and we’d exchange pleasantries and I would have to explain why I was sitting at the side of a trail.
And then the Virginian Baptists showed up.
Well, they didn’t show up first. I heard them, their voices echoing down the canyon walls. I couldn’t hear them. It just sounded like a party had arrived… and it wasn’t going anywhere. They were laughing, cheering, joking. Eventually, the first group of them rounded the switchback.
I knew that they were Virginians because they had seen us get out of our car (with VA license plates). They were getting into in two, clearly marked church vans and they called out to us: “Virginia!” We turned around and the group cheered and asked us where we were from. It turns out, their town was just a little ways from ours.
When four of them rounded the switchback, we exchanged pleasantries. The four men were touristy and goofy… and having a fantastic time. When they asked why I was just sitting there, I said, “I’m scared of heights,” and the four of them rang out, “Us too!” and laughed good-naturedly.
The second group rounded the bend a few minutes later: three women and a man with a huge cowboy hat on. One woman in the group was nervous, she was taking baby steps down the turn and when she saw how sheer the drop off was on the next leg of the hike, she stopped in her tracks.
“You can do this!” one of the women said. The other two hikers agreed. They spent a long time convincing the scared woman of that: walking down the length to make sure it wasn’t going to narrow, offering their backs and backpacks so she could hold onto something, showing her that she could inch down against the rock wall.
As they were encouraging her, one of the women grinned and said, “If your husband leaves you here, we can take you back to Virginia with us– your town is right on the way!” We laughed and the group descended down the path.
I’m not going to lie: watching the woman– who was just as terrified as I was, if not more so– inch her way down the slope, I was inspired. Maybe I could do this too.
I want to tell you that I conquered that hike and surprised John at the bottom, but I had actually taken so long that by the time I had the guts to try the rest of the path, he was ascending and met me just where he had left me. No inspiring ending to that story except…
The truth is, we were all new at the military life, too. It’s tough being new. It’s tough not knowing what’s up and what’s down, or what’s upside down. It is really, really, really, really, REALLY intimidating.
And you might get scared. Really scared.
Find the helpers
The sentiment I often hear from readers is that they want to reach out to other spouses, but they’re afraid. They don’t want to cause drama. They don’t want to be in Mean Girls-esque cliques. And they don’t want to look weak. The fear of what others might think or do is paralyzing. The truth is, there might be one or two people who turn up their nose at a newbie, but honestly? Do you really want to hang out with that kind of person anyway?
I know I don’t.
Seek out the helpers and the friendly folks by screwing up your courage and going to events and get togethers. Say yes to doing things, even though it might be hard. And then spend a little time watching. (Yes, I know that sounds creepy.) You’ll quickly see who is inclusive and who is exclusive.
Operate with kindness
Often, when we’re put in strange or tough situations, it’s easy to become a little prickly or to shut down. Take a deep breath, extend your hand, and just say hi, whether it’s at a networking event, your neighborhood pool, or a Command Christmas party. Chances are the other person is pretty nervous and probably feels uncomfortable too.
Be a helper
Can’t find a group you want to hang with? Create your own. Be that person you wish you could find. A quiet, nervous, new spouse or significant other may have just moved into town and might be watching to see who she/he can trust and lean on for support. Be an encourager. Be honest. Be real. You might be the person they need.
What a wonderful gift those Virginian Baptists gave me. Watching their kind spirits, their joy, their humility, and their contagious enthusiasm was infectious. It was a fantastic reminder of the kind of person I want to be and the kind of people our community needs.
Be brave. You can do this.