Fear of Flying

This morning, Wyatt told us that human beings come into the world with just two fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. The rest we learn along the way. This afternoon, my mother has decided to face her fears, beginning with the beginning. It's a noble pursuit, for sure, but as we walk to the zipline tower in Miraval’s desert challenge course, I can’t decide if she’s propelled by courage or peer pressure. Her smile is a little shaky as we introduce ourselves to the other 6 women who will take the plunge with us less than an hour from now. Talking and laughing with the group, she seems to relax for a bit, but by the time our guide Connor is showing us how to fasten our harnesses, she’s back to looking terrified.

Meanwhile, I’m totally cool. Although its true I acquired a moderate fear of heights after bungee jumping in New Zealand several years ago, I’m careful not to mention this fact or to show any signs of uncertainty. I’m the one who got us into this.

It occurs to me that my mom has already remembered my bungee-jumping experience when she volunteers us to be the second of the 4 couples to jump. Rather than risk watching another jumper have a panic attack, she opts to go after the self-proclaimed thrill-seekers from San Francisco, but before the women from Georgia and Alabama who are as terrified as she is. Most importantly, she doesn't want to be behind Eileen, who tells us she fell victim to the Quantum Leap challenge yesterday and had to climb back down the 25 foot pole in tears.

With our jump order set, our guide snaps himself “on belay” and skims quickly up the 45 foot pole. It looks deceptively easy. Watching the risk-takers make equally fast time, I add insecurity to my growing anxiety. I’ve been known to get a little freaky on a 10 foot ladder, but today that will be the easy part.

In just minutes, its my turn. I climb the ladder quickly and then hoist myself onto the pole using the first of many 4 inch steel rods, which are spaced about 3 feet apart all the way up the 45 foot pole. “Hand, foot, hand, foot”, I tell myself. “Don’t look down.” I climb quickly despite a growing fear with each step that my running shoes will slide off the rod. When I'm finally I’m up, I say to team risk-taker, “Wow, that was scarier than I thought it would be!” For the first time, I’m seriously worried for my mom.

My worry is short lived. Within minutes, my mother is up the pole and standing next to me on the podium. No muss, no fuss, no drama whatsoever. I’m shocked. Although she assures me she was trembling with each step, I’m not sure I believe her.

For the next 10 minutes or so, we congratulate ourselves as each woman joins us on the podium. When Eileen makes it, we cheer loudly and take pictures and promise to meet up in the bar later for prickly pear margaritas. We regret not bringing tequila with us. When all 8 of us are up, our guide’s new instructions are a grim reminder that we must now get down, and that the 1,000 foot zipline is our only escape.

A new, deeper anxiety sets in. After some brief instructions, team risk-taker is snapped to the zipline and planning their 3-count. Naturally, “one-two-three-and-then-go” is the winner. (Isn’t it always? ) Standing in position on the edge of the platform, Cindy declares on the count of one, “I’m sorry, I just don’t think I can do this. I’m really, really sorry” she tells her friend. ” Mom’s eyes are like saucers.

Then suddenly over my right shoulder I hear my mom say “We’ll go.” Not only am I shocked, but I instantly start to panic. I know why she’s doing this. Standing on that bridge in New Zealand all those years ago, I remember finally finding the strength to fling myself of the platform, knowing it was the only escape for the feeling of sheer terror that had consumed me.  Here in the Sonoran desert, my mother is doing the same thing. Before I know what to make of it, we’re both snapped onto the zipline and my mother is counting. “Holy shit,” I say on the count of one. As I release the words, I see a change wash over my mother’s face. In just those tiny fragments of seconds between the one and the two, I see the terror that had been pushing her forward more quickly than either of us could believe instantly fade away. All that remains is confident, cool, determination. I may have gotten us into this, but she’s getting us out.

And that was that. On “go”, we both step off the platform. Unlike bungee jumping, on the zipline the feeling of falling quickly turns into a smooth, easy glide. We are flying. Holding onto my harness I look ahead and see my mom with her arms spread open wide, a huge smile on her face. I follow her lead, and my arms spread wide as we fly across the desert sky at 35 mph.