March 19, 2008

Learning to Let Go

2008 1508 page23 capIGH ABOVE THE ARENA THE aerialist in silver and sequins swung back and forth. His strong arms reached downward toward the slight girl in pink swinging on her trapeze. Tiny specks of sawdust filtered through the sunshine around the two figures. A safety net hung unobtrusively beneath them.
Instantly the girl in pink released her bar, turned over twice in the air, and reached up toward the man in silver. His outstretched fingers caught her hands and the two swung as one. He smiled down at her.
“We made it, Dad!” The girl’s face mirrored her father’s smile. She had watched her father perform at dizzying heights as long as she could remember, gasping in amazement as he flew through the air from one trapeze to another.
2008 1508 page23The bars she used at the beginning had reached only her father’s shoulders. Though he said nothing, she sensed she, too, was being trained as a “flyer.” Time conquered the fear of heights that had captured her as she and her father worked out together.
Calluses grew thick on her palms and she learned to swing confidently. Her father taught her to swing by her knees a bit higher each day. His hands caught and supported her when she slipped. She learned to respond when he said, “Now!” and she could flip from the bars to the ground, landing on her feet.
Trust was added to the love she already felt for her father, who encouraged her step-by-step to try still more difficult feats. A safety net stretched beneath them as they worked on higher and ever higher bars.
“When you fall, land on your back,” he told her.
She fell.
Her father did not condemn her for falling, but encouraged her to try again.
For a time fear robbed her of confidence, energy, and a desire to try again. They worked together to conquer her fear when she landed wrong, sprained an ankle, or twisted a knee. She looked up at her father again as they swung.
“Made it again!” Her father’s tone was confident, secure. “Together we can do anything.”
She knew she had to let go of her father’s hands and reach back to her own trapeze, which swung back and forth nearby. She waited for her father’s “Now!” to signal when it was time to let go. From experience the girl in pink knew that her father timed the exact moment when the bar would be at the right place. He would ask her to do nothing too dangerous. She now looked forward to trying new flips. Their partnership was exciting.
“Yes, Father.”
The girl let go of her father’s hands instantly, reaching back toward her trapeze. For a second she hung unsupported in the air, then she caught her own trapeze securely in her hands.
“Good job! Tomorrow we’ll try a new somersault.”
Curiosity, not fear, accompanied her as she climbed down the rope ladder. In the beginning her father’s new plans frightened her, but now trusting him was second nature.
Listening to her father describe the steps in performing the difficult somersault the next day, she rehearsed them in her mind. For only a second she wondered, Can I do it? Then her fear retreated. She smiled. “I’ll try anything you suggest, Father.”
Trust defused her fear; she was no longer its captive. She was free!
Connie Nowlan has been a teacher and academy dean, and is now a wife, mother, and writer.