by Hanna Anderson, First Year Staff
As a Ropes Specialty counselor, it is my privilege to help campers tackle a new adventure each and every day. From those who squirm at the bottom of the tower with anxiousness to begin their trek to the top, to those who cower in fear at the thought of being any higher off the ground than they currently are, all campers can conquer a goal each time they come to one of our Ropes activities. I love being able to help them do so.
A few days ago, I sat on a small platform attached to the top of a pole, not just any pole, but a pretty tall one. I had clipped myself in and ensured that everything was ready, and all I had left to do was encourage each Carmel girl as they climbed to the top of the pole, hooked on to the zip line, and flew down to the counselor waiting to catch them at the other end. My job, by definition, was to clip them on to the zip line safely. But, my job expanded far beyond that as the first camper reached the platform.
“We’re so high!” she exclaimed, as her hands grasped my arms, squeezing me as if I was all she had left in the world. She peered over the edge as her eyes welled up with tears and, at that moment, I knew she would be in hysterics by the time her harness was attached to the zip and ready to go.
“I have you clipped onto the pole with multiple clips, see? It’s safe up here and I will continue to make sure it stays that way.” I tried to comfort her, but she still seemed uneasy. As I moved around the small platform to disconnect one of her clips, each climber is equipped with multiple so they are never unattached from something, I tried to make casual conversation with the first question that came to my mind.
“So, what’s your favorite kind of bird?”
“What?” She looked at me curiously, unsure why I would ask her this during her moment of evident fear.
“You know, your favorite type of bird. Do you like eagles? Robins? How about hawks?”
Suddenly, her grip on my arms relaxed the slightest bit, and as her gaze shifted from the treacherous drop below to my face, she answered, “I like orioles.”
“Oh cool!” I responded as I clipped her last devise onto the zip line. “Why do you like those?”
“Well, m-my daddy l-likes the baseball team and I also think they’re p-pretty.” Her watery eyes were beginning to dry and her fear seemed to melt away before me
“That’s awesome. I like those too! You should pretend that you are an oriole right now, as you go down the zip line! You can flap your wings just like one!”
“No, I want to hold on the whole time. I’m too scared,” she replied. I felt a small pang of disappointment, for I had not been able to rid her of all her fears at that point but, I was still glad that she was far more relaxed and willing to go.
“That’s ok, you can just be an oriole holding on. Are you ready?” And with a bit of instruction and an enthusiastic, “Have Fun,” I helped her off the platform and let her speed down the zip.
I could have turned to see the next girl beginning to climb up the pole, but instead I watched this hesitant camper go down. I hoped she would have fun and be proud of her ability to ease her fear, but her hands gripped tightly to the strap before her and she showed no sign of a smiling cheer. Just as I was about to turn my attention away, I saw her arms move slowly off the strap and to her sides. I squinted to see what she was doing, and my heart melted when I finally realized that this fearful girl, afraid to even let go of a pole, was flapping her arms like the wings of an oriole. She flapped and flapped until she reached the end of the zip line, and by then I’m sure that every girl down below could hear me cheering wildly for her. She had become the oriole, and she had had an amazing time while conquering a fear.
The next girl to reach the platform showed even more anxiety than the first. As she protested against letting go of anything, I tried the method again.
“I like blue jays,” she finally replied.
“Then be one!” By the time she was ready to zip down the line and our bird conversation was over, her fear had evaporated and her flapping wings were evident. Each girl behind her also escalated from utter terror to vibrant flight as they sped down the line with theirs wings waving, and each time I let one go I couldn’t help but feel more and more proud. With nothing but a little distraction, enthusiasm, and encouragement, these young ladies had not only accomplished the completion of the zip line, but they had done so with an eventual smile on their faces.
If you have the chance to walk by the zip line here at camp, keep an eye out for the birds speeding down. Look for their smiles and know that each one is making a memory that will last a lifetime. Like I said, it is my privilege to make this possible, and I cannot wait for the chance to help even more of those birds fly.