Just one, small step.
I'm not much of a risk-taker. It’s sad but true. I don’t scale the highest summits or cage dive with sharks. Deep water incites panic, and skydiving is non-negotiable. High dives? No thank you. Roller coasters? Have fun. I'll hold your bag.
I'll wait here and take photos.
My computer's hard drive complains about the quantity of photos. Here's my barely 100 pound girl, folded atop her adored 1,200 pound beast, soaring over a jump.
There's Mikey, our baby, caught mid-air, gleefully hurtling himself off the boat into the water. I'm behind the camera, as Kristen untangles a four foot long black rat snake from the bird netting covering the chicken run, all the time cooing, “It will be OK, little guy. Just hold still.” And then there's the photo of two-year-old Mikey, complaining because Dad won't hold him under the water so that he can touch the pool floor.
This is my world: I'm the caution light surrounded by my insanely adventurous go-go-go family.
“Be careful!” It's my catch-phrase.
My fear shocks me. When did I become Ms. Worrywart?
I fantasize about fearlessness. In my dreams, I single-handedly save a beached orca. I rescue a toddler, flailing in the ocean, and return him safely to his mother's arms. I conquer Mount Everest and hike the Appalachian Trail. The entire trail. Alone. I arrive in Tuscany to spend a year sipping Chianti and writing my novel. And then, then my friends, I bravely send my book proposal off to a top-tier publisher and celebrate, sharing champagne with strangers.
It seems so real—and dangerous—in my mind.
Reality, though, finds me mired in the mundane. Carpools and homework. Bake sales and grocery shopping. The riskiest acts I commit involve growing plants outside their hardiness zones or forgetting my EpiPen when I work in our bee-laden garden.
Yep. I'm living on the edge.
Just one step...
It's not that I think we all need to pilot planes or discover ancient civilizations. It's just that I assumed other people would clean toilets and pack lunches while I did something... significant. Something daring. Something so earth-shatteringly huge and important that our kids would be proud when their kids learned about my accomplishments while reading history books.
I'm supposed to be and do something...more.
Eyes up. Don't look down.
I waited. I thought that something special would find me, show up on the doorstep, arrive via email, an invitation to jump-start my complacent life into one with adventures and daring.
And I kept waiting. For decades.
Each year, I follow tradition and make my New Year's resolutions: lose weight, exercise more, embrace fun, be brave, have an adventure, BE more.
Each year, I religiously break every resolution.
Instead, I remain on the sidelines, photographing Kristen collecting blue ribbons and Mikey sailing with Daddy. My fearless family, well documented.
Then, two years ago, something changed. June arrived.
It wasn't a milestone birthday. But when I looked at the candles—two, shockingly bright candles—the numbers glared their message at me.
My life is, most likely, more than halfway complete.
The wax turned liquid under the flames, forming perfect pools before overflowing. No one played photographer. That's my job. My birthday is a memory without supporting documents. Who's taking the photos? What have I accomplished that will live on when I'm gone? When will I ever achieve those fantasies of adventure if I don't start now? Who's making certain that MY wishes come true?
Obviously, not me. I'd just been waiting. Not taking action.
I blew out the candles, and for the first time, I didn't make a wish.
I made a vow.
A vow to become a little more fearless.
A vow to participate, not just observe.
A vow to challenge myself—and let others take photos.
I ate cake, opened the presents, then gave one to myself.
I booked a family vacation to Costa Rica.
Years ago, when I worked at an advertising agency, I met one of my favorite clients for drinks one evening. Stephanie was an adventure nut. She'd just returned from a solo vacation and glowed with thrill-seeking stories. Kayaking with crocodiles. Zip-lining through jungles. Scuba diving with sea turtles.
Costa Rica rose to the top of my bucket list. I lusted to retell adventure stories where I was the heroine, blithely traveling the world and exploring new cultures. The imaginary me embraced every scary, spectacular nook of the island, while the real me withered at the thought of leading my family into new, dangerous, thrill-seeking opportunities.
To me, Costa Rica epitomized adventure. Venomous snakes and volcanoes. Wildlife around every corner: adorable, cuddly sloths, as well as spiders as big as my brain. A country where roads are notoriously iffy and ill-marked and the language is a mystery to non-Spanish speaking me.
I knew my family would love it.
Travel-guide in hand like the Bible, I read every detail obsessively. Could I, in one week's time, change my future? Could I learn fearlessness and embrace adventure? Or would I forever be left behind by my adrenaline-fueled family?
Could I let go of my fears, stop hiding behind the camera, and learn to live—really, fully LIVE?
It was time to try.
Fast-forward to August. In Costa Rica.
Imagine, if you will, a scene out of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Or maybe Romancing the Stone. I can't remember which movie featured main characters precariously dangling off a bridge.
Because there's a bridge.
Actually, bridge might be a bit too generous to describe what faces us.
There's a structure. It's made of rope and wood, and both look slightly rotted. It joins Point A to Point B, as bridges tend to do.
It's just ahead, the apex of our miles-long, steeply inclined, slippery rainforest hike.
And it's the only way to reach our destination...a coveted swimming hole underneath a waterfall.
It sways when you touch it. But don't touch the handrail-that's-not-a-handrail, because snakes and spiders and God-awful stinging ants like to lurk there. You can't hold on. That's why you have a hiking stick—that really helpful hiking stick that gives you a great sense of security, especially with the gaps in the rotted wood slats of the bridge-that's-barely-a-bridge.
Of course, if you drop your hiking stick, well, bad luck. It's 1,500-feet below, returned to the thick greenery of the rainforest.
Kristen and Mikey laugh and leap onto the bridge. They don't even pause, except when they hear someone gasp.
“Mom, you OK?”
Peter's behind me, encouraging forward motion. The kids sprint across the planks to the viewing platforms, in search of poison dart frogs, disappointed that we've yet to encounter a viper.
“Be careful!” I yell. I can't decide if I'm talking to them or to me.
I want to turn back.
I want to go home.
I want to ignore my inner panic and fly with my family.
...and I go.
Baby steps into bravery...and the reward of joining my family in the jungle's waterfall pond.
Now, with the New Year comes new resolutions. And in 5-1/2 months, there's a significant birthday looming.
Can I recommit to my vow to live a braver life? Isn't it time to take some risks, send off that book proposal, hike higher mountains, overcome my snorkeling claustrophobia and swim with sea turtles?
I think it's time.
Here's to pursuing new dreams and acting bravely in 2016.