Sunday, November 28, 2010

Serendipity 12. A Favorite Thing Comes Full Circle

The two most common questions I get about the 52 New Things List are:
1.  Are you going to keep going after the year is over?
2.  What has been your favorite New Thing that you've discovered this year?

The answers are: yes, and, setting aside the travel destinations which are in a category of their own, rock climbing. I never, ever would have thought I'd enjoy rock climbing, much less take it up as a hobby. But that's what's happened, and though I am still certainly a novice with entirely-too-weak arms, I -- the most gear-averse person I know -- am the proud owner of my very own climbing harness and shoes, and a ten-punch pass to Petra Cliffs climbing gym.

I've had just about the greatest instructors anyone could ever ask for.  Three of them -- Amanda, Randall and Josh-- are current students at Saint Mike's and two more -- Dan S. and Conor D -- are both graduates who have become professional guides and instructors. It helps that Saint Mike's has an amazing Wilderness Program and Todd and Eben have trained all these teachers, plus many more, to guide the uninitiated -- students and staff alike -- through all kinds of outdoor activities that would otherwise probably be economically and physically inaccessible. Below are Josh and Dan at Bolton on my first-ever outdoor rock climbing experience, Josh belaying me on a second climbing trip to Bolton, and Amanda (with Randall in the background) showing me how to climb the first time I ever showed up for an evening climb at the Saint Mike's wall.

I've also been blessed with phenomenal climbing buddies.  Some have been students I got to know from climbing, and some have been students I knew from other contexts who went climbing for the first time with me and get hooked the same way I did.  One of my favorite stories in that regard was of my friend and former student Helen, who graduated last year.  I met Helen as her faculty mentor through a program we both signed up for, and the week before she graduated we were looking for a fun activity to do together.  She was a bit iffy when I suggested climbing but her usual sense of adventure took over, and we went over to Petra Cliffs to try it out. She loved it so much that the next night we went back, together with a set of other newbies -- Andres, Giselle and Jamila -- who wanted to check it out as well.

In the first pic above I'm belaying Helen on her very first time up the wall; the one next to it is from the next night, when she was demonstrating to the others (Andres, Giselle, and Jamila all pictured with her below) how it's done.  I know shes doing great things in New York, and she's still involved in stuff here through the MDG book project, but I really wish she were still around to do some more climbing as well.
I'm grateful to a whole slew of other past and present students who have all been climbing partners at one time or other.  Below is another pre-graduation climbing night with Ryan, Josh, Nigel, Ben, Sarah L., and Sarah D., as well as a night of climbing on the SMC wall from about a month ago, when 1st-year resident and climbing buddy Maura, and I convinced Kaitlyn, Maura's RA, that the rest of the floor just had to try out rock climbing under Amanda's expert guidance..

But the reason I'm writing this post, and the reference to everything coming full circle, refers to my first and most recent climbing partners and coaches, Nicole and Jai.  There are a couple things that make this full circle climbing particularly serendipitous.  One is that, of all my teachers of New Things this year, Jai is easily the youngest.  She coached me up my first wall, while her mom, Nicole, belayed me from below when she was the ripe old age of four.  Now that she is a far more mature five year old it's  still equally inspiring (and just as fun) to go climbing with her.  The other point of irony is that the first time she and Nicole served as my climbing tutors was in Nepal. Last January, on my first trip of the New Things list, I was in Nepal visiting my good friends Cliff, Nicole and Jai.  The family is certainly the most adventuresome threesome I know, and when they extended an invitation to their house guests (my new friends Jane and Kirk were there as well) to join in their weekly Saturday rock climb,  it seemed like a good time to begin the conquering of my fears and try it out.

With Jai on the wall beside me, encouraging me not to be afraid, and to trust the rope, I did my first-ever climb and I think, started off a year of challenging myself to try all kinds of new things I'd never before considered "my thing".  Not all of them have hooked me as hard as rock climbing, but all of them have been great. As I've written about elsewhere, I think rock climbing is a metaphor for life in all kinds of ways.  It has things to teach us about trust, about our own capacity in a difficult moment, and about the value of the other people who anchor our lives.  Cliff is now working in the Sudan, and Nicole and Jai are living in Vermont for the year.  Nicole and I have started getting together on Thursday nights for some climbing at Petra Cliffs, but today was the first time since our climb in Nepal that I've been on a wall with Jai.  Here's a photo from that first climb together back in January, and another of Jai making it to the top (the first of six all-the-way-up climbs) this morning.

It's not every day that an adult get to travel half-way around the world for a lesson from a four year old, and it's even more rare, I think, to have a second round with the same teacher right here in Vermont. But as this year has taught me, it really is true that anything is possible. All kinds of people can play great and unanticipated roles in our lives if we're just open to it, and I'm looking forward to learning more about the wonderful world of rock climbing from and with my friends Nicole and Jai (and Cliff once he returns), who introduced me to it on the other side of the planet.

1 comment:

  1. Trish, glad to hear that you are so hooked! I am very excited about climbing right now coming off my trip and would love to get to Petra with you anytime!