My body aches. My joints are very painful and they seem to be taking turns. Currently, it’s the balls of my feet and the first knuckle of my right pointer finger, but in recent days the pain has been in my wrists, my knees, my left elbow, and my fingers. The GP has given me a referral for a rheumatologist but he’s not free until July.
I tell you this because when I agreed to scale a very tall climbing wall with my 10-year-old niece Issy, I knew my chances of making it to the top were slim to nil.
But, I recently listened to Riverview Pastor Steve McCready make a few references to rock climbing in a sermon (climb with your legs, not your arms, and don’t forget to breathe) and so I figured I could at least try.
I watched Issy go first. She climbed slowly and steadily but got stuck frustratingly close to the top where a loose foothold, spinning on its screw, seemed like it would be her undoing.
11 and 12-year-olds had gathered at the base of the wall. “You can do it, Issy!” they called.
And after a great deal of perseverance, trying different holds and positions, she scrambled onto the ledge at the top. I was very proud… but now it was my turn.
I began the climb, passing the halfway point quite quickly. But about two-thirds of the way up I felt stuck.
Quite high in the air.
Clinging to the plastic hand-holds and I could see no next move.
“I feel quite frightened, Is,” I said in a very small voice.
She was a few meters above me waiting on the platform.
“You can do this, Aunty Vet, but you just have to breathe. I want you to focus on your breathing for a bit. Can you do that with me?”
I realised when she said it that my breathing had become quite shallow. I was at that familiar spot- right on the edge of a panic attack.
Her gentle, confident voice broke through and caught me, bringing me back to myself.
I waited on the spot for a moment, arms trembling, trying to determine my next move. The whole group of kids had gathered at the base of the climb to see what was happening to Mrs. Cherry. They started calling up encouragement, as they had done for Issy.
My arm reached up. I found a new foothold and then…
Then I was falling.
My hands had just given up.
According to the kids I did two 360 spins as I fell.
The harness caught me quickly so falling wasn’t tragic, and before I knew it I was flat on my back on the ground, looking up into the little faces gathered around. One of them whispered, “that was epic, Mrs. Cherry!”
I lay on my back for a while one of the little lads unclipped all the carabiners.
“Now that I’ve seen how far you got, I’m going to try again,” he said.
He had previously started the climb but didn’t think he could do it and so he climbed back down.
Issy moved on to the next part of the course without me and I watched my little friend conquer the wall.
The next day I noticed a spattering of deep purple and brown bruises across my pelvis. All the places the harness had bitten into my flesh as I fell.
I don’t mind that I failed. My “failing well” had emboldened the kids to complete the climb. And if I had to do it all again exactly the same, I would. Just so I could repeat the experience of hearing my niece gently guide her aunt from panic to calm. What a little legend.
There was a baby possum at our campsite. The camp director had asked us to give it a lot of space, and so we took a wide berth when we passed the old stump it called home. But the possum started getting closer. First, it huddled up in the girls’ bathrooms, and then one morning it trundled closer and closer to us, choosing to curl up in the crouched legs of one of the children. We slowly moved off and the possum began to climb a tree.
“Well done, Possum!” I said, “making good choices!”
That night we had a Bush Dance. The kids danced the Heel and Toe Polka and the ‘Strip the Willow’. It was a lot of fun.
The next day, the baby possum was dead.
The girls took it hard.
“We were dancing when we could have been saving the possum!” one cried.
“Not only that- we were dancing with boys when we could have been saving the possum!” pointed out another.
They were heading toward despair when one of the children suggested they pray. After a quick theological discussion about whether possums go to heaven, they decided yes, and huddled up to pray. It was one of the loveliest I’ve ever heard:
The baby possum died and we are so sad. She wasn’t acting like possums normally do. She was reaching out to us for help and we failed to recognise the signs. For this we are so sorry.
Please take care of the possum’s soul as she goes to you in heaven.
“I’m not sure I prayed right,” she said as soon as she’d finished.
“Oh, there’s no wrong to pray,” another replied.
“Yes, it’s all just talking to God,” said another.