Rope for Hope 2014
I had the great honour of participating in the Rope for Hope campaign, benefiting the Make a Wish Foundation, this year. On Tuesday, July 8, I was fitted into a harness, escorted to the roof of the Barclay Center in the heart of downtown Calgary, and then equipped with two carabineers that would be responsible for my safe descent of 15 storeys. Believe me when I tell you that I had ZERO experience in rock climbing, skydiving, or otherwise being in the air without my feet on the ground. Leading up to the moment when I would go over the edge, I had only the trust that no professional would allow me to do this without knowing what I was doing AND that the equipment would do what it was supposed to do.
There was training, and in fact, no one was allowed to descend without running through the procedures. Safety was stressed and the “asap” rope was in place to assure us that the worst we could do was “lock up” if we picked up too much speed on the way down. Each person would only be given 3 chances if they did lock, and then they would be lowered by the team. I know this was to reassure us that we would not be able to free-fall, or lose control, but as I approached the ledge, I now worried about being “that person” who might panic in the face of the fear that was setting in. I looked down over the edge, and as I suspected, a knot, and the associated butterflies, formed from my life-long fear of heights BUT I still had 2 feet on the roof, so I knew I was still ok. Instructed to sit while they adjusted and readjusted, checked and re-checked the equipment, my brain was processing that everything was in place to keep me from bouncing. Logically, I knew I would be ok.
The next step was when my brain completely shut down and terror and survival took over. I stood up backwards to the ledge, and one step at a time (only 3 in total) I had to lift myself up to the edge. My knees instantly became Jell-O, I started to shake and the logical side of my brain was screaming at me that this was in no way, shape, or form, a sensible undertaking. I began to feel like all of my strength had been vacuumed out of me and, for the first time in my life, I had been immobilized by fear and the feeling that I could NOT do this. The instructor kept saying, “Move your heels back. Heels, just off the edge” and I could hear him but as I stared at my toes, my feet just would not move. I felt fear that I had never, ever known. I had to will everything in me to move my feet; “I am up here now, come on, Ange, you can do this. No one will let anything go wrong” kept playing over and over in my head. But it was taking so long, and I remember the moment when I realized that my brain could not make this make sense. After what felt like forever, my heels went over the edge, I stepped down over the wall, and bit by bit, stepped down the first 4-6 feet (I can’t recall clearly in my fear fog) making my way to the next ledge, and finally, I was in motion. Of the entire descent, that was the hardest part. It was now past and the rest of the descent wasn’t easy by any means, but there I was in each moment; present in each moment. “Okay, keep my right hand on the blue rope at all times,” “Come on, take in the moment,” “Ah, not too fast. Too fast is too slow,” “Enjoy,” and “Wow! I’m really doing this!!”
In my descent, I had time to reflect and consider what it could be like to be a parent of a child suffering a life-threatening medical condition. What a
family’s life must be like to be consumed by what must become part of their “normal”; seeking diagnosis, getting to appointments, traveling to specialists near and far, and living with their own fear of both the known and unknown. And the trust that families must put into the people, medicine, treatments and time. Like my trust in things that I did not know as I approached the rooftop, I suspect that families must also have trust in some of the most uncontrollable situations. As I landed on the ground safely, I was overwhelmed with the fact that this was the most insane thing ever and yet in the same moment, I would come to realize just how honoured I truly was to give back to families whose normal, everyday, was very similar to putting my heels over the edge and leaning back where there was nothing to hold onto but faith in each moment.