“My Gutsy Story®” Connie Fenty
Even now, 30 years later, I can recall the sharpening of my senses and how I responded to the growing fear of what I was about to do that night. Standing in the midst of the forest, my feet cushioned by winter softened leaves, I peered at the jungle gym of ropes in the branches of the trees far above me. This was the famous challenge course of the West Virginia Outward Bound School. Now it was my turn to climb up to the first of several obstacles requiring courage and agility. I knew on a rational level that I would be safely attached at each of the challenges to an overhead rope clipped into the harness I wore wrapped around my waist and legs. Even so, my body began to shake almost uncontrollably, fueled by the release of terror related adrenaline.
Each swinging bridge, cargo net, tight rope, and balance beam began at a firm supportive wooden platform. From those perches, I could stop trembling long enough to take comfort from my surroundings: newly leafing branches, a sunset forming in the distance, the odor of cool damp earthy forest air, the sounds of birds flying to roost, and the encouraging shout from the instructor below, “Just let go, Connie. L-e-e-t g-o-oh.” In spite of the empowering knowledge that I had successfully completed another aspect of the course, as I approached each new obstacle, debilitating fear returned. Repeatedly, I forced myself to leave my safe and secure base and step into the unknown.
On the last platform, I sat elated, exhausted, and feeling finished. “Just one more challenge, and I’ve got this,” so I thought. The spotter seated beside me drew a long sturdy rope toward the two of us and attached me to it, explaining, “Hold the rope, scoot to the edge, and then you’ll drop about 20 feet.” He promised that the rope would stop short of the ground and I would get to have the swing of my life as a reward. That’s when I looked down and froze to the platform.
After a while I said to my patient guide, “I’ll close my eyes and you can just push me off.” “No,” he replied, “it must be your decision to plunge.” Finally as night began to creep through the trees, I edged closer and closer to what felt like nothingness and eventually plummeted quickly down, down, down. The rush of air as I picked up speed in my free fall was exhilarating. My elongated scream pierced the darkening forest. As the slack of the rope wound out, the rope and I moved to and fro in a wide arc. It was the best swinging I had ever experienced. Slowing, I stepped onto ground level and unbuckled. I felt a satisfying sense of pride like that of a child when she has accomplished a new feat. I wanted to shout, “Look at what I did.” I didn’t understand until later how strongly I had internalized what had happened that night.
My Outward Bound experience was like a boot camp for teaching me to conjure up courage when future happenings threw me off course. To move forward from minor setbacks, like being transferred to a different teaching assignment than the one I had hoped for, I daringly leaped into the unknown. When faced with moving from a happy home to live in a different town, my mind told me that change of my choosing should not elicit fear, but still my heart raced as I left. Through continued practice of the lessons I learned on the ropes course, it was easier to let go of the security and safety of the known enabling me to step away from my living “perch” and embrace the choice to dwell elsewhere.
Later on, I would need even fiercer courage during my process of recovery from a major setback. My husband and I back then were just adjusting to our lives with young children and a new house when he was diagnosed with cancer. His battle was a short one. One month and he was gone. I found myself stuck on an ungrounded metaphorical “challenge course platform” named widowhood. Below and in front of me there lay an abyss as far as I could imagine. Calling me back from that ledge the “rope” that I held tightly was the knowledge that I had two young daughters who needed me. Sometimes, I could swear that the ghost of the voice I heard all those years before in the West Virginia woods was urging me to “let go-o-o-oh” once more. Instead, fear of what lay ahead kept me anchored to the past wishing someone would give me a push to catapult me forward.
And then, I am drawn into the present by graceful moments. While running to maintain my sanity, the autumn wind rains bright yellow leaves upon my head. A double rainbow appears in the sky one day while my daughters and I play together outside. We sniff the earth as we dug holes to plant daffodil bulbs so we can watch them appear in the spring. I remember to open my senses and take in the world around me. Consciously, I begin to connect to the calming powers of nature. Fear dissipates and I scoot to the edge of a new beginning. Trust propels me forward. After a while, I am welcomed to solid ground.
CONNIE FENTY has a Master’s degree in education and is a retired elementary school teacher living in Bucks County PA. She is the founder of Your Nature Connection Seminars, Common Ground Labyrinths, and co-founder of Sacred Steps Journeys.
Connie’s presentations feature themes of Healthy Living through Meditative Practices as well as Awakening Connection to Nature, Ancestors, and Spirituality. Whether facilitating a labyrinth walk; teaching yoga; providing a retreat in nature; or leading tours to sacred sites in Europe, her programs are full of experiential activities and inspiring content. She is in the process of writing a travel memoir. Check out her website: www.yournatureconnection.com
SONIA MARSH SAYS: I admire the way you were able to use the courage and resilience you received from your your boot camp experience, and apply it to tragedy in your life.
2015 “My Gutsy Story®” has started, with the 1st VOTING of Kenn Ashcraft, Suzanne Chun and Lola De Maci, stories, as well as the Monday, January 2015 “My Gutsy Story®” stories. So you will be able to VOTE for your favorite of 7 stories on January 29th-February 11th, 2015, with the WINNER announced on February 12th.