Friday, June 11, 2010


When I was 13, I took a trip to Wacky Waters with a group of girls. Stuffed into a big van--complete with shaggy carpet trim--we blasted music, ate twizzlers, and gossiped during the hour-long drive. I was excited, and a little nervous, but knew I'd have a good time with my friends.

When we got to the water park, we split into a couple of groups. I already had a fear of heights deeply embedded in my psyche, and my friend Anna stayed with me as we toured the kiddie pool and its slides. Everyone else, however, went straight for the big one. The Daredevil slide twisted and towered over the park, and I just knew it would be terrifying.

As the afternoon went on, I watched my friends repeatedly climb the Daredevil staircase. Anna, kind enough to stand by my side for the first hour or two, decided she was going to follow the others and brave the skyline views. I stood at the bottom, watching them from a distance--feeling alone and left out--listening to the squeals of laughter that echoed through the tubes.

My thoughts, like a ping-pong match, volleyed between: I could go up there and I'll never make it.

And then Anna came out from the bottom of the slide, her wet face glistening in the sunlight and her smile broad. "Come, on!" she hollers out to me, "you can do this! It's SO MUCH FUN!"

She jogs over to where I'm standing and wraps her left arm in mine. "I'll be with you all the way up there," she says, and she gestures over to our friend, Casey, to follow us. Casey's arm entangles my right arm and the three of us walk to the bottom of the Daredevil staircase. Casey whispers in my ear: "I'll go first and wait for you at the bottom, and Anna will come after. You can even close your eyes as we walk the stairs. We'll hold you. You'll be safe."

My friends are good to me. Even at 13, they understand the need to face fears. They understand that I'm scared, and also that I'm frustrated because I know I'm missing out on something I could enjoy just as much as they do.

So I climb the steps and the first few flights come easily. The line of people waiting for the slide is long, and I find that the further into the air I step and then have to wait, the weaker my legs become. About halfway up--holding tight to Anna and Casey, I begin to look out. I am taken aback by the majestic view, despite the sensation that I'm falling. More than 50 feet in the air, the crowds across the park start to blend into a mosaic in motion. Once at the very top, I let go of Casey and Anna's arms and hold on to the railing and breathe--slowly and fully. I'm standing higher than I've ever been in my whole life. My knees are weak, but I feel the blue sky surrounding me, and as I look out beyond the park at the rolling hills of the Iowa cornfields I feel a sense of comfort. It is midsummer, and the crops are solid this year.

Casey is up next, and a jolt of fear pierces through me. I begin to salivate as the lump in my throat quickly thickens and my breath staggers. Before the lifeguard gives her the signal to go, Casey turns to me, looks me in the eye beaming with excitement and says, "It's so fun. You'll love it." I immediately don't believe her and I watch, in horror, as she disappears down the blue tunnel and squeals.

It takes mere seconds for Casey to reach the bottom, and the lifeguard to my right gives me the signal. Anna is still behind me and I turn to her.

"I can't do this," I tell her. "I need to get down." But the long line of impatient and rowdy teens behind her are not sympathetic.

Anna holds on to my hands encouragingly and tears begin to well up in my eyes. "You made it all the way up here. That's amazing," she encourages. "Going down is the fun part and it will go so fast. Trust me. You'll want to do it again."

I don't believe her, either. I'm afraid of heights, I'm afraid of speed, and I'm afraid of spiraling out of control. But I'm also afraid of the kids behind her who are now unkindly urging me to get going. The lifeguard pushes up the rim of his red hat and tells me I've either got to go down the slide, or get out of the way.

I look to Anna. "Go," she whispers. And I free her hand from mine. I reach out to the top of the tube and hold on to balance myself as I sit. I'm afraid to let go. My heart races, the tears are now flowing effortlessly down my face, and the noise behind me grows--the pressure mounting as the cool water flows under my thighs and behind my back.

The water builds up around me, and in a split second, I release my grip and flow down with it. Faster and faster I slide--alternating between darkness and light as the tube around me opens up in intervals--allowing the sunlight to hit my face. I'm screaming. I am screaming from a place deep inside myself, the blood-curdling sound of fear and I feel completely out of control. I try to stop myself midway down, my arms flailing trying desperately to grab hold of something--anything--but it's no use. The water pushes me on, and I gasp for air between screams.

And in another flash, it's over. I'm forced into the pool with enough momentum to make me stand and jockey me around to gain footing. As promised, Casey is there waiting for me, her arms spread out wide like a proud mama who has just watched her toddler go down the park slide on her own for the first time. I fall into her arms heavily, hold tight and begin to sob.

"You did it!" she cries, "You did it!" and she tries to jump up and down in the shallow waters as I continue to convulse, releasing all the fear from my gut. And then I hear Anna splash behind me, being released from the monster I just tackled, and she wraps her arms around me from behind.

I am sandwiched between pride and comfort, and I am spent. The lifeguard at the bottom of the slide toots her whistle at us and motions to us to get out of the water. Anna and Casey lock their arms around me once more to guide me out of the pool.

I sit on the concrete and wipe away the last of my tears. I am proud of myself, yes, but I am also emptied of energy.

"Wanna do it again?" Casey snickers at me, her sly smile giving away a piece of her adventurous nature that we hadn't fully been introduced to yet.

I look sideways at her, my breathing finally returning to normal. "No," I say. "Never again."

And they laugh, easily and comfortably.

That day entailed one of the scariest and proudest moments of my life and I return to it often to find courage. My current self now understands that the moment of letting go and allowing the current of water to carry me back into the safety of my friends who loved me would have gone a little more smoothly if I didn't fight it. The scrambling to grab hold of something when there was nothing there produced more fear, and in some ways I want to go back now so I can do it again--relaxing and releasing control--allowing the water to guide me.

Water, and its current, is often used as a metaphor for life. Water is powerful: Something to be cautious of and revered at the same time. And in order to survive its current--its twists and pulls--you can't fight it. You have to just let go.

This morning at the office, my friend Shea notices I had been crying. I am struggling with the same feelings of that 13-year-old girl standing on the side of the pool watching life experience pass her by.

"You miss him," Shea surmises.

"Yes," I whisper. "And he offered to buy me a plane ticket to fly me out there next weekend." The weakness in my voice is apparent.

"So, go!" my dear friend urges. "Get a direct flight, no puddle jumpers, and I'll drive you to the airport." I'm walking behind her now, through the doorway of the room where we get our coffee. And she stops and turns to face me.

"You can do this," she tells me.

"I haven't been on a plane since 1995, Shea. How can I DO this."

She smiles, her eyes as sly and confident as Casey's were years ago.

"Because you can."

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Today is a day of moments. I looked across the dissipating clouds and knew
I was right where I needed to be. I sang my heart out. I made and shared music with people I love.

I am a lucky girl, and I always remember that it is the people in my life that bring me the greatest joy and allow moments of all sorts to happen.

And then I traded places with my daughter: she watched my performance this morning; I watched her tap this afternoon. Tears of pride, once again filling my eyes. Another moment, another milestone in her life is also a milestone in mine. 12 years old, and beginning to make her way more independently in this world, I marvel at her courage and laughter.

And in a quiet moment of evening, now alone with my thoughts, I look ahead to the next few hours and hope time will slow...ever so carefully, so that I may savor it before the next moment begins.