We sat there analyzing the angle, contemplating our odds, confirming the trajectory should our feet give way on the loose gravel. Q glanced at me, his eyes filled with compassion and understanding should I choose to back out, we were after all 150 feet above the valley floor. “I think we can make it,” he finally said calmly.
My good friend fear pleaded with me. “Don’t listen to this fool, you can’t make it! It’s certain death!” Fear is a funny thing. It can freeze you in your tracks or stoke the fire of motivation. I know fear all to well. Fear has been my BFF most of my life. Fear had kept me frozen unable to move forward more times than I was willing to admit. How do you quit a six figure career to pursue a dream to travel, photograph and blog? It’s absurd to even consider, especially when fear has your ear. How do you push past the phobias of heights and disgusting insects when the joys you yearn for require that you do so? How do you put yourself in harm’s way for the offer of a better view? I have spent an entire life full of fear. Fear of failing, fear of falling and fear of getting eaten alive!
I re-examined the ledge. The slope was steep on a 45° angle, only mere inches wide and stretched at least 20 feet across the cliff face. The precariousness and possible plunge to the gorge below had stopped us in our tracks to weigh and consider the risk. I grimaced. I really wanted to reach the other side. I mean what if all you ever saw was from below and never from above, or vice versa? What if everything was only ever white, with no black or better yet many shades of grey? The proverbial ledge had stopped me from reaching the other side repeatedly in my life. Opportunities vanished because the risk seemed to far exceed the payoff. I had missed the “view” from the other side far too often.
Fear kept me safely planted on the side of the cliff. It kept warning how dangerous the ledge was. It reminded me to use logic and common sense, urging me to reason with my self. Briefly, my logical, common sense echoed a memory, a twinkle of a reflection from May 2013. I had just been diagnosed with a terminal disease. Terminal is hard to write, and even harder to hear. The word terminal felt like life had tied a boulder to my heart and threw me overboard and the weight of the rock made up of an indescribable sadness was sinking me into an expanse of darkness only known through first hand experience. The word terminal pushes you passed fear and settles you among sorrow. There are no words to explain the depth of this sadness.
And the sadness isn’t for oneself. It is remorse for your family, your loved ones. It is the anguish, devastation and yes fear you see in their eyes. It is the realization that you will single handily be responsible for a lifetime of heartache to those you love and value the most. My children would grow without a mother. A mother is the softest place to land when life kicks you in the ass. How could I deny them that necessity? My husband would retire in his golden years alone or trying to reinvent his life. I had promised him my love and life, and although I would exit the contract by the vow I took, he would be left with the pieces of our shattered life together to try to create a future for himself. And my mother. As strong and as determined as she is to outlive us all (and by all I mean everyone on the planet), how could she possibly survive burying another child? Or my siblings who have always blocked and tackled on my behalf in life, how could they accept the fact they couldn’t protect their baby sister now?
And yes I was also sad for myself. I am young and now would miss out on a life I had been afraid to fully live. I had wasted this valuable resource called time and now here I was, my account almost depleted. I found myself in unfamiliar territory, way past the fear of dying and smothered in regret.
I literally pushed Q forward onto the trail. “We can make it,” I said, not very convincingly and against my fear’s better judgement. We started slowly. My eyes burned into the back of Q’s head as I hung onto his backpack for stability. I am terrified of heights and knew I couldn’t look down so I nudged forward, shuffling one foot behind the other, never really lifting them off the narrow edge. My heart pounded, reverberating through my core. Sweat began to bead on my forehead. Mere feet from where we started fear gripped me again and cutoff control to my legs, stopping me instantly. “I can’t do this,” I whimpered, barely audible. I turned slightly in an attempt to retreat to my secured spot on the side of the cliff. The motion caused us both to sway, as I had a death grip on Q’s pack. “You can’t turn around Lily, the ledge isn’t wide enough. You have to shuffle backwards,” he warned.
I considered the logistics of how I would shuffle my way backwards to my safe zone. I sat with my eyes closed, on the brink of sobbing and found my friend fear again. I remembered back to the days after my diagnosis. I had come face to face with the realization that I may be out of time, my greatest fear of all. From day of diagnosis forward I had to choose whether whatever moments remained were spent reaching the other side, or frozen in my comfort zone. Looking death square in the eye gives you an insight I wish we could all experience without the risk of dying! Death shows you the beauty of the human soul, enlightens you to what really is important and transforms your outlook on life.
Like I said fear is a funny thing and it began to choke me in my silence. “You could die trying to cross this ledge,” it warned. “But you’re dying already without crossing it – make each moment count,” common sense reminded! My eyes flashed open with the realization that fear of being out of time makes taking risks not only logical but practical. Life becomes a whole lot clearer when tomorrow may not come.
For all those moments and opportunities lost to fear I needed to charge forward! I pushed on Q’s backpack again and quietly told him to march on. I’ll be honest, I was shitting bricks with every shuffle of my feet, unsure I was even on the actual ledge since I had to keep my gaze skyward. I must have lost about 10 lbs that day in sweat and I’m sure my heart rate and blood pressure were through the roof. And as each step made me cringe, it also brought me closer to the other side.
It wasn’t until Q turned around to face me that I realized we had safely made it across. He smiled and hugged me knowing how big of a hurdle this ledge had been to me, literally and figuratively. Exhausted, I slumped to the ground at the side of the cliff trying to catch my breath before I had a heart attack… and then I saw it. A perfectly beautiful waterfall in the gorge below that had been hidden from view from my safe vantage point. I had taken the risk and I was rewarded with a view second to none in this world.
Since my diagnosis I’m no longer sad. In fact I’m quite the opposite, as I have never lived healthier or been happier. I thank God upon rising each morning, grateful for another moment, another day. Sun or cloud I am thankful because it means I’m still here. A mantra I repeat often. I’m still here. And since that day, way back in May 2013, I have hiked a mountain, traversed some precarious ridges, photographed in remote wilderness, canoed uncharted waters and sat in solitude in the middle of grizzly territory. I have shoved myself onward through pain, unbalanced, drugged feet, nausea and exhaustion. And not without my friend fear I might add. No, fear was always there and always very real.
I have far outlived my expiration date and have surpassed what anyone thought I would be able to achieve both in health and in the quality of my life. Like I said before, I’m still here. And I have no intentions of checking out any time soon. I believe I’ve replenished my account. If not with time, then with love and life. And I mean real life.
~True North Nomad
What has fear motivated you to do? How do you choose to celebrate each moment of your life?
I did it all; I owned every second that this world could give; I saw so many places, the things that I did; With every broken bone, I swear I lived – enter your email address top left, bottom right or bottom centre of this post and click “Follow” and never miss an impassioned tale again!