As a general rule the David clan is not what one would call outdoorsy. We don’t hunt buffalo, or jog, things of that nature. As you can see from the adorably undead pallor in my bio photo I don’t go tanning often, and generally avoid staying in places without electrical outlets. I prefer George Clooney to Smokey the Bear. Although to be clear, if Clooney’s in a tent, I’ll hug whatever tree you want.
Setting aside my family’s natural tendency to stay indoors and eat carbs, over a decade ago I decide to head to Greece and live in a thatched hut for two weeks.
The island of Skyros had three thousand inhabitants, a thousand of which were goats. A warm Retsina scented breeze wafted through the many pine trees overlooking the bay. I was one of two Americans on the trip, the rest of my fellow travelers came from the UK. We hiked, meditated, dined on local cuisine that we helped to prepare, signed up for classes to expand our horizons, and slathered ourselves in spf 8000. In other words, it was summer camp for grownups minus the color war. Or, Feta Cheese and Angst as I like to call it.
Maybe it was the tinkling of goat bells, or the way the afternoon sun glistened on our pasty bodies, or the fumes from the constant and liberal coating of mosquito repellent I donned each evening, but during my stay I got it in my head that I wanted to go rappelling. In case you’re unfamiliar with this activity here’s a definition courtesy of Livestrong: “Rappelling, also known as abseiling, is a form of rock climbing that utilizes a rope anchored into a rock or mountainside. Other equipment, such as a harness for safety and a descender for moving down the mountain’s edge, are used. The climber connects himself to the rope and leans away from the cliff to allow the rope to bear his weight.”
Did you get all that business about mountains, ropes and leaning away from cliffs? Utter madness, I tell you. But still, I decided to give it a whirl. When I told the lovely teacher I was interested in taking her course but terrified and thought it likely I would cry at some point, she was very understanding. Sure enough, on my very first trip down the 40 foot rock face that overlooked the bay my worst fears were realized. I think a visual representation is in order here, don’t you?
See the happy people? The girl with her derriere hanging in the breeze? See how she’s holding the rope in her hands?
Now here is what actually happens when a young American girl hopped up on grecian dairy products loses her footing entirely and the only thing standing between her and the bottom of the bay is her teacher holding the safety rope. Behold the inversion:
To be fair, there was a redwood sized tree root across the top of the cliff. When all five feet of me tried to step over it and get into position, I slipped. My back slapped against the rock face and there I was hanging upside down with the water forty feet below listening to a lot of nervous brogues expressing their alarm. To keep me from falling my teacher was hanging on to my safety rope for dear life. So it was up to Madame Paradox to get herself out of this pickle. I let out a roar that would rival the king of the jungle’s and used every ounce of my non-existent why-don’t-I-remember-to-go-to-the-gym-more-often abdominal strength to pull myself up. I was scratched and bruised, but in one piece. My classmates cheered. My teacher grinned with relief. “See Heidi?” she said. “You’re not bad under pressure, you’re brilliant!”
“Am I?” I said. “All I knew is I was upside down and I needed to get right side up again.”
I did go down that cliff face and several others during the week long course, including rappelling down a mine shaft in the dark, if you can believe it. After that initial disaster the rest was honestly great fun. I found my true mettle that day and can still recall the pride.
As I move out of the apartment I’ve lived in for the last twenty years, I can’t help but think about this empowering moment. Times are challenging and emotional at the moment, to say the least. As a matter of fact, I’m sitting in my empty place right now writing this post and waiting for people to come haul away my old TV.
The move has left me contemplating the concept of home. What is it? This room? My objects? Financial stability? My writing desk (which is the dusty floor at the moment)?My online pals? A large extended family? My friends? I guess for a long time I believed home had to come from the outside. I had to wait for someone else to bring me the feeling that I was finally home. But I no longer believe that. Home exists for all of us no matter where our loved ones are, or how much of our stuff is piled in a storage locker. Home is something we cultivate inside, an inner strength and compassion that bolsters us for the trying times ahead. So that when we sometimes find ourselves hanging precariously from the edge of a cliff, we are able to tap into our inner resources and pull ourselves back up again.
While packing up, I found my journal from the trip to Greece and the account of my terrifying yet exhilarating cliff dive couldn’t be more apt, so I thought I would share it with you:
“I conquered myself today. At least the self that I thought I was until I realized I’m not at all. I’m someone else entirely, someone taller, or thinner, or braver. No, that’s not it. Today I came face to face with me and I was brilliant, fabulous, stupendous. No, that’s not it either. Today I was the me that I’m always wishing I was. Today I met me hanging off a cliff upside down, and she was scared, and bruised, and shaky, and gorgeous.”