It was this time of year in 2004. Another brutal winter in the northeast. My sister and I escaped the frigid cold and for warm weather and tropical breezes. We headed for Club Med in beautiful Turks & Caicos where the beaches were soft and white and the water was literally turquoise. Ahh…
We had our fill of water sports, running, swimming. But the one activity that excited me was the Flying Trapeze. What seemed thrilling from afar though, felt terrifying up close.
First thing I learned about the Flying Trapeze, the staff goes shirtless. Since they were all tan men, this dress code worked well to help ease the tension of the girls waiting on the bench. The leader, Joe, added contrast by donning a pair of stark white pants and exhibited authority by owning his post at the net and navigating a large rope that set the pace for the swinger above.
Like an Olympic gymnast (which I’m not!) I rubbed my hands in the powder to calm my nerves and dry my sweaty palms. It was my turn. My confidence started to drop with each step I took up the ladder. I didn’t realize how narrow the steel rungs were. With each step, my legs shook and my heart beat so loud, I was sure everyone could hear. I got to the top. OK. Now how do I get to that little plank of wood? The guy on the plank (we’ll call him Marcos) instructed me, “hold on to this rope and put your foot here.” Sounded so simple, but this meant straddling the space between the ladder and plank, with no net below. OK. Breathe. You can do this.
Despite any good judgment, I followed Marcos’s instruction. As soon as I did, he grabbed my harness from behind and hooked me up, literally. I have to say, there was something comforting about his strong arms locking me in. Then he took his poll and, with the hook at the end, pulled in the swing.
“Put your toes at that edge of the plank. Grab the bar. Extend your body. ”I looked down. Mistake. But I saw Joe and realized he did this every day. He almost looked bored. I didn’t know how to do this, but he did. I decided to shut off the voice in my head and focus only on his instruction.
I shuffled my feet to the edge. Grabbed the bar. Extended as much as I could, given the tension in my body. Then I heard Joe’s command to let go, “Hut”. Marcos let go of my belt. Somehow I went with it. I leaned in, let my right hand go from the rope to the bar, let my feet leave the plank, and I was flying. Oh my God. I’m flying! “Knees up.” I contracted my abs and pulled my knees to my chest. Not so graceful, but I was able to hook my knees over the bar. “Let go.” My hands opened and dropped down over my head. My knees were so tightly bent to hold my body upside down on the bar. “Pull up.” Following instruction, I pulled my hands back to the bar, unlocked my knees and swung. “1..2..3 tuck” and somersaulted into the net. I couldn’t believe I did it. Waiting for applause, I was a bit thrown off when I heard, “Roll off the net.” Basically, get down. We have people waiting.
OK. It wasn’t perfect, but I realized I was on to something. If I let go of controlling a situation that I really couldn’t control and allowed myself to follow the next right action, wonderful things could happen. And it wasn’t just the outcome. It was the process of feeling like I was in a flow, a rhythm, a groove, that felt so freeing.
I was more inspired than ever to keep going and build up to “a catch”. (That’s when another person hangs by their knees, reaches out, and grabs you.) The requirement was to continue doing these beginner swings until Joe thought I was ready to attempt a release and catch.
I got in line and did swing after swing. My goal was to climb that ladder until my legs stopped shaking. May have been a lofty goal. “You’re ready for a catch.” What?!? Really? I was excited and proud of myself. And nervous. When? Tomorrow, 4pm.
I practically skipped away to find my sister and let her know I graduated to the next level. “That’s awesome, Arial.” She said as she smiled and half laughed at my childlike enthusiasm. “I hear there’s this guy who plays guitar by the ocean bar for happy hour.” OK, clearly my trapeze adventure was being trumped by drinks at sunset. Fair enough. Reminder: I was not the center of the universe.
As I went to sleep, I replayed the routine over in my head. Climb. Grab the swing. Lean out. Let go. Knees up. Reach out. Grab the outstretched hands. Fly. Turn to grab the empty swing. Somersault down to the net.
Next morning, I noticed this quote in a book I had in my suitcase:
“To say yes, you have to sweat and roll up your sleeves and plunge both hands into life up to the elbows. It is easy to say no, even if saying no means death.” –Jean Anouilh
Just what I needed to hear. 4pm. I turned to my sister and let her know it was time. I know that interrupting her sunbathing to videotape me was not her idea of relaxation. But, because she’s an awesome sister, she grabbed her towel and followed me off the beach.
I took my place by the net and started to climb the ladder. I knew that the more I let go of fear and control, the better chance I had of facing this. My legs still shook, but I climbed anyway. I got to the top and followed the instructions to hold the rope and step onto the plank. I grabbed the swing, proud that my muscles were more relaxed and I was even able to extend further. “Hut.” No thinking. I let go. “Knees Up” I did what I was told. “Arms out” I reached and, despite the rehearsal in my head, I was surprised to feel the arms of the other swinger. Holding on to him, my knees unhooked, my body followed his momentum, and this time I felt like I was soaring! Wow, the resort looked so beautiful from this height. The bright blue water and green palm trees were like candy for my eyes.
I got so caught up, realizing I did it, that I almost forgot to turn and grab my swing. Needless to say, I totally missed and dropped to the net. Luckily, Joe was paying attention and slowed my descent. My feet hit the net and while I didn’t have the ideal finish, I was so excited that I got caught!
I walked with shaky legs to the edge of the net, rolled off, and tried to stand still long enough to get unhooked. I ran over to my sister who was holding the video camera. (Yes, there was a time that video cameras were sold separately from phones.) “Did you see that? Did you get it?” “That was amazing!” she said, “but, we probably should have charged this last night.” What was she saying? “The battery died.”
How could this be? I just achieved greatness. How could we not capture this? Another reminder that it wasn’t about awards and recognition. My excitement came from letting go, trusting, and accomplishing something that I didn’t know I could achieve. I took a breath and hugged her. “Thanks for coming away from the beach and cheering me on.”
Luckily, she did take a few pics. Yes, that’s me flying through the air.
On days when I feel down, insecure, or unfit, I read that quote. It reminds me that when life feels hard, I have a choice. I can get up and do the footwork. I can sweat. Roll up my sleeves, take a risk, and plunge into life.
Since then, when I’m faced with decisions to play it safe or take on a new project, to stay home or go out and meet new people, to watch TV or hit Play and do my workout, I remember how free I feel when I let go of what I think I know, allow myself to take the next right action and, sure enough, I find my groove.