Today, it feels like story time…..
I have a memory of exploring the desert near the Grand Canyon… it was late evening, and as dusk fell the shadows of the rocks loomed across my path, while the eerie stillness of the gunmetal sky was interrupted by irregular shards of lightning, and the protesting grumbles of thunder rolled across the landscape. In between the intermittent rolling bassline of the clouds’ soundtrack playing in the distance, the plains were still and silent, with only the occasional animal sound punctuating the emptiness.
As I walked, looking to see how far I could get, I came across a chasm slicing across the desert floor as far as the eye could see in either direction. Many metres below, the silver of a running river could be seen dodging from rock to rock, the boulders crested with foam as the water charged through the canyon.
Disappointed and frustrated by this interruption to my hike, I was about to turn back when i noticed a wooden post in the ground on the edge of the canyon. Maintaining a respectful distance from the sheer drop onto the rocks below, I approached the weather beaten post. Leading from the post across the canyon was a rope bridge – two ropes running out across the void with sturdy wooden planks between them, and two more slighter ropes as handholds. Every few metres cross-bracing held the handholds to the main bridge. It seemed solid enough, and the planks seemed worn by the passing feet of hikers and locals before me. And yet I have never been fond of heights, and the growing darkness added a further menace to the scene, the ominous growls from the lightning storm in the distance sounding like angry warnings should a mere mortal attempt to cross.
I had come too far to simply give in and turn back, and surrender has never been my preferred option, so with my heart in my throat I set out across the gap. At first the bridge felt solid under my feet, and yet as I inched forward, it began to sway alarmingly, the planks of wood beneath my feet increasingly swinging from side to side. I had seen the old westerns where one hurried footstep splintered through the planks, sending debris crashing to the canyon floor below, and these images played out in my mind as I attempted to rally my courage and forget my fears. All suggestions of ‘don’t look down’ were gone, my eyes alternately riveted by the river swirling below, threatening to reach up and pull me down, and the promise of the other side of the bridge, so many metres distant.
So many times the promise of a return to safety called to me – going back where I knew I could be safe, a place where the solid rock I had so recently left almost felt tangible under my feet. And yet the promise of a different world the other side of the emptiness still called – the opportunity to discover something new, to find myself in a new place with new explorations and adventures to be had.
It seemed that I made progress handhold by handhold, inching slowly across and keeping my eyes fixed on the end of the bridge, only occasionally being tempted to look down – or to look back. I could always go back to safety….there’s no shame in giving up….what if you find yourself in a dead end….it seemed as if the bridge would never end, as if the gap was stretching and expanding, getting further away…
Yet slowly the wild swaying of the bridge subsided, and almost without realising it I found my feet touching rock once more. I had passed the test and made it to the next step of my journey. My trembling legs would hold me no more as I collapsed onto the nearest boulder, uncorked the small flask I always carried, and steadied my nerves. There would be more exploring in the morning, but for now… I could rest in safety. The sky split open as a bolt of lightning shredded the horizon, and the following thunder reverberated like the applause of a thousand angels.
Perhaps now.. it’s time for a rest.
It’s not so different when we set out to do something new, is it? We don’t really have a map for the journey, because we are pioneering – going somewhere no-one has been before. Even when we are following in the footsteps of others, it’s still going to be different as we carve our own path into the unknown. We can prepare, we can consider the possibilities, we can plan, we can get advice.. and yet there comes a moment when we have to take a step of faith – to step beyond our safety and into the raw chilling unknown.
There’s always the temptation to go back – to run to safety, where those who called us foolish for setting out in the first place are waiting, willing us to fail. The further we go into the unknown, the more our fears cry out to us, and the draughtier and scarier, the more ‘on the edge’ we find ourselves.
Yet if we push past those fears, we find them slowly subsiding. One by one, moment by moment, we find ourselves becoming one with the very things that scared us at first. What we feared becomes a place of safety, until we can catch a breath and gulp down the fresh air of calm tranquillity again.
I cannot prove it, but I suspect that if you’re reading this, then somewhere that resonates with you… that there is an exploration to be made, a risk to be taken, a chasm to be crossed. In our relationships. In our careers. In our personal lives. Our dreams lie just beyond the point we can see – just over the horizon. Listen to the encouragement of those who have dared to pioneer in their own lives… and step beyond where you feel safe. The bridge will take your weight. Your nerves will hold out. Your dreams are real. As John Updike observed:
“Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.”
It doesn’t take much to step into the unknown – but until you do, you will never know the power of what is possible. For you.