On the first day of my job in Utah, my employers gave out awards. It was an effort to show us what we should do everyday after the summer camp ended.
“Make something up! Give someone an award for best costume, or best joke, something silly, and be sure to give one to every kid.”
I think this is great for kids, an incentive to be well behaved and to listen to your coaches. However, as my employers huddled around, asking for drum rolls to call out the names of fellow counselors to receive their award, I immediately wanted to leave. I don’t want to be recognized for arbitrary goodness or simply being an enjoyable person to be around, or for thinking up the best dad joke. Most of the time, I’m ok not being recognized at all.
On my drive out to Utah I was met with support from everyone. I had two of my best friends help me pack the night before I left; one even offered to take my car to get washed. I had strangers look out for me while camping alone in Illinois and even offer me fresh eggs for breakfast. I had family friends feed me and give me a bed to sleep on in the middle of Nebraska. I had employers bend over backwards to make my last minute, just barely two weeks notice, work, on top of letting me go to Vegas for a short trip with a friend. What baffled me, however, was the number of times people told me I was brave, heroic, fearless.
This past weekend I went climbing with Kathy Karlo and Blair Haddad, to women I would not hesitate to call brave, heroic, and fearless. After only knowing Blair for one day I would happily sit and tell you all about how brave and fearless she is for a whole day. Kathy has constantly impressed me with assisting in establishing a route in Africa, traveling alone on the road across the country, constantly pushing herself to expand her abilities through climbing, and bringing awareness to various issues through multiple media facets. These women are powerhouses.
As Blair and I chatted on the top of the first pitch of a route in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Kathy having swam through the offwidth start and no longer within eyesight, we shared our fear of multipitch. We both admitted to loving the idea of it, the concept of being high on the rocks, watching the world from a different angle, but something about actually doing it was anxiety inducing. As Blair, the second in our group of three, began up the offwidth start of the second pitch her breathing became shallow and fast. Quickly, she started shaking and admitted she needed to come back down to the ledge five feet below her. As we worked to communicate with Kathy (thank goodness for cell reception), I tried to reassure her that I would probably do the same thing and that I too was nervous about this pitch, it scared me. When we got hold of Kathy, she gave us three options. We chose the best one- leave Blair, I climb up to Kathy, we scramble down, Kathy climbs back up to Blair and they repel with the two ropes.
I tied myself in to Blair’s rope and scrambled up to the offwidth. I like the idea of offwidth climbing more than I actually like doing it. It’s similar to what I imagine trying shove yourself between two cheese graters is like. I didn’t know if I would be able to do it, but as I shouted back down to Blair about how unpleasant this was and that I was glad she wasn’t doing it, I slowly, painfully, inched steadily(ish) upwards. I grunted, and pushed, and cursed, and eventually I made it through the ten feet of offwidth. It sucked. And it was kind of awesome. When I finally made it up to Kathy, I was breathing hard, my head was hurting, and I was debating the merits of throwing up. I told her the two of them had successfully forced me into facing all my multipitch fears- offwidth, traversing with bad feet, and spooky, exposed walk offs. She told me I was brave. I shrugged and told her someone had to get the gear.
When I think of “brave” or “heroic”, I think of firefighters running into burning buildings, I think of the students standing up to adult politicians who think of them as “kids” in an effort to change gun laws, I think of the people who escape abusive home lives only to still fight to make a good life for themselves. I don’t think of me facing my silly fears in an effort to not think about the things that really scare me- being alone and doing all of these things without the person I wanted to share them with. I think of the people I know who have dealt with eating disorders and severe depression who still manage to get up every day. I don’t think of me driving across the country to pursue career goals in a city where I have one friend. There are a million people in the world who are brave. I am not brave, I am simply doing what I need to do.