I put one foot in front of the other, and then I did it again. Three steps out and I felt the slackline start to wobble from side to side and I knew that I was going to fall, so I jumped off and down to safety. This wasn’t my first try, and three steps was about my record. I wasn’t even really trying to cross. I was just hoping for four steps this time…
Ruby had turned 10 and we were at Get Air, a giant indoor trampoline park, as part of the extended mega-birthday-sleepover-extravaganza. I’d been before, and I had tried everything they had to offer. This included such non-bouncy items as the slackline. I’d never made it across, and in fact I had never seen anybody make it across, but it was still fun to try.
My wife tried, but she didn’t make it. I tried again and fell again. My kids tried. Other people’s kids tried. It was an impossible task. Or perhaps there was a strategy besides “hoot and flap your arms” that none of us knew about. We all gave up and went on to other things. But something drew me back to it, and I tried one more time. And this time I made it four steps.
Emboldened by my stunning success at making it almost halfway across this short line suspended a very short distance above the soft mats, I decided that maybe I could make it five steps. And then something crazy happened. I took three steps, and I felt the wobble begin. I took that fourth step and felt the line start to sway back and forth fairly violently. And as I felt the urge to jump off, I realized that if I were going to take that fifth step, I was going to have to keep going, even if the line was wobbling and swaying like crazy. This was a revelation to me. Somehow I had assumed that in order to cross the line, I was going to have to find a way to keep it steady the whole way across. When the line became unsteady, I jumped off. But I realized that the line was never going to become steady. I took the fifth step.
That next step, which I assumed was going to be the one to buck me off, felt just as shaky as the step prior. Not any better, but not any worse. Still unstable, still terrifying, but I was still there. And so I took another step, and then another. It wasn’t graceful, but I made it across. I couldn’t believe it. I had just walked across the entire slackline! And it had been messy and unbalanced the entire time! And I still made it!
I called my wife over and made her take a video, because I knew that nobody, including myself, was ever going to believe it. And I did it again. It was no less scary the second time. All I thought as I quickly crossed was how embarrassing it was going to be to have a video of me claiming to be able to cross and then failing hilariously. I was sure that every step was going to be my last. But I made it again.
The third time I did it was just as scary as the other two times. Hadn’t I learned by now that I could do it? But it is hard to convince your body that you can do something when every step is tenuous and wild. I knew I could cross the line as a whole, but each step of the way felt like a new challenge. I was unsure about each movement I made, each placement of the foot, even while being positive that I could complete the larger task.
And so I learned something. I learned that instability is scary, and it never gets less scary, but that I can’t let it stop me from doing things. The only reason I had never made it across before, was because I had jumped out of the challenge when it got rough. And that’s really the only sure-fire way to ensure that I never make it, isn’t it?