This is Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park in Utah. My wife, Andrea, and I scaled this a few weeks ago. It’s a pretty scary climb, and the only thing between you and certain death from a 1,400 foot fall is a chain. And sometimes, even the chain is missing. It was something we both wanted to do. Andrea wanted to prove that despite what is going on in the world or with me, she can live without fear and be safe. I wanted to prove that I could do it, to overcome that fear and press on to the top.
The lesson each of us learned was very different. For Andrea, it wasn’t about being fearless. She was quite terrified and broke down several times on the way up, telling me that she was very afraid. Andrea gets a little queasy riding over high bridges, so this was really scary for her. Each time she stopped along the way, perfect strangers approached her, encouraged her, told her that she could do it, extended a literal helping hand, and offered practical advice like “don’t look down”, “put the blinders on and watch your feet”, and “breathe and relax”. When she returned from the summit, a group of teenagers at Scout’s Lookout gave her a round of applause and congratulated her. Andrea’s lesson was that the world is a safe place, and that despite her fears, there are people who will be there for her along the way, and some of them may be people she doesn’t even know.
I told her several times that we could turn back without any shame. Once I knew that she was determined to get to the top, I encouraged her to keep going, to be relaxed and confident. But it was hard for me. I knew she was scared, and I was afraid she was going to make a mistake. I was hyper-vigilant, at the ready to catch her in case she stumbled. Finally, about half way up, I had a revelation. I can’t protect her. I can’t protect her from the world or dangers that may come her way. I can love her, support her, and be there for her, but my lesson was to let go of that responsibility. Her well-being and her happiness is up to her, despite what is going on with me or with the world.
Sometimes, we start down a road to learn something, but the lesson takes a turn and we learn something altogether different, something that is vital to us. Be on the lookout for your life lessons no matter what form they take. You never know when and where they will show up.