Friday, November 20, 2009
SPREADING THE VIRUS
It's been a great two weeks for P'UP. Not only have I started projecting a 5.8 Steph Laudenklos (profiled here) named, "Erica's Song," I have had the pleasure of sharing my enthusiasm for climbing with several of my students.
Tana and Rachel, both students in my "Writing and Communities" course, took up my open invitation to try climbing. I didn't have my camera with me when Tana, a former gymnast, got her climb on. She ascended four routes wearing tennis shoes, and despite the struggle, found herself in love with the sport. She got her certification and is now a regular at the wall. Rachel came to the wall just this Tuesday.
Rachel, a former HS athlete and power-lifter, showed up this week to give climbing a try. Nervous and edgy, she faced down some old fears.
"When I was a kid," she said, "my sisters could climb trees and I was too scared. I can't believe I'm doing this."
As Josh tied her in, she beamed with both fear and intrigue.
"I don't know if I can do this," she said.
"Honey, if I can, you can," I replied.
Rachel blazed a rainbow path up the wall, as Josh offered beta to keep her going. At times, she claimed, "I can't do this," and we replied, "Yes you can!" (Oh, who knew Obama would become a prophet?)
As she ascended, and with just a third of the route left, her arms and hands began to shake. "I can't do it!" she wailed.
"Just sit back and take a rest," Josh suggested. "Shake out your arms for a minute."
After a thirty-seconds of shaking out her arms and self-empowerment, she took on the rest of that wall. She hit that last hold and touched the bar above the route.
Victorious and in disbelief, she came on down. As Josh untied the danish with cheese, Rachel beamed. Her energy and self-respect resonated.
"I can't believe it!" she said, grinning. "That was hard!" she said with a big smile.
As we talked afterward, she looked down at her hands.
"You know," she said, "when I was power-lifting, I thought callouses were the coolest thing for a girl to have."
She seemed to be seeing a forgotten self as she looked to her palms. I smiled.
"This is so awesome."
"Yeah, you did a great job. Are you coming back?"
Just last night, two of my freshmen students, Travis and Bill, showed up to climb. Travis had a tough time of it, but he's coming back. Bill, a student returning home to Delaware at the end of this semester to attend a university there, won't be. However, he thinks he may have to take up climbing at home, on his beloved East Coast.
After the young men had climbed around and discovered it was harder than it looked, they too were smiling. As they took off their harnesses and rushed to get back to a study group, they too seemed to vibrate with excitement.
"You coming back, Travis?" I asked, smiling.
In the past couple of weeks, I've seen how enthusiasm is contagious. I've watched young women who had forgotten or set aside their athletic lives, reconnect with a part of themselves. I've watched young men learn that there's something valuable about the process, the struggle, climbing represents. This process reflects my teaching of process as a pedagogical tool. What I valued most, I think, in the moments I spent with students, is the ability to point to a tangible, physical process and explain how it replicates or affirms the intellectual process I've been trying to help them to understand all semester.
It was beautiful to me, that connection between the mental and the physical. I think that's what keeps me coming back to the wall, too.
As I project the 5.8 (made it past the bouldering line last night), and negotiate stemming on that projected "Cold Hands" 5.7, I'm learning to respect my body in new ways. I'm not as weak or awkward as I once believed. I'm getting stronger. I'm beginning to understand my potential as a human being.
My love for climbing is infectious, I believe, and helping others to catch the virus has become an example of prophetic love. I am a teacher of self-appreciation, of self-centered exploration with community-wide implications. Climbing is helping me to name all of the methods I use in the classroom, and those methods are bleeding into the work I do at the wall. Someday, I hope to be a climbing writer, the sort who takes off all summer to write of rock and daydreaming, of the earth and humanity.
Until then, I'll keep training at the rec, sharing all of myself I can, and marveling at this truth: Sharing your enthusiasm and self-confidence helps others to do the same. It draws them out of themselves and back in again, as they reconnect with parts of their soul they thought they had lost. It's the best kind of inquiry, and it's beautiful to watch.
If I were to send you, dear reader, a postcard it would read, "Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here."
But I'd really mean it. Some things you have to see for yourself. And man, you should see the human beauty I'm seeing at the wall every day.