2011 taught me that if your New Year’s resolution is to be fearless, God will send you to the top of a mountain in a third world country and expect you to jump.
When I made my resolution that year, I meant it. I’ve spent my whole life being cautious and pragmatic, never taking enough risks. It was time for that to change. A few weeks into January, I got invited to join a local church’s July mission trip to Guatemala, and i said yes almost immediately.
Six months later, I was in the beautiful city of Panajachel, three hours from Guatemala City. We spent the days traveling to neighboring villages, laying the the foundation of a house and playing soccer with kids. We spent the evenings wandering through the street markets and eating in restaurants, one of which featured a guitarist who bought everyone a purple friendship bracelet and told us that he was channeling Jim Morrison and we were all so, so connected.
On the last day of the trip, our group piled into a van and drove to a nature reserve, where we spent some time looking at monkeys and then signed up to go zip-lining. Most of the group stayed, but some went back to the city for an afternoon of coffee and shopping. With my New Year’s resolution in mind, I stayed.
I don’t like heights. I don’t like speed. Yet without really thinking, I decided to go zip-lining in a third world country.
After being fitted for helmets and and going over the rules and technique, we began our trek to the top of the mountain. It was almost a mile, mostly uphill. To get there, we crossed several tiny bridges that wobbled menacingly if more than one person walked on them. (More than one person always walked on them.) By the time we reached the top and faced the first line, I was breathless and exhausted.
If this was a story on the back of a Sunday School pamphlet or a televangelist’s testimonial, at this point in the story I would have looked around at my beautiful surroundings, smiled, and said “Philippians 4:13!” before cheerfully jumping off the mountain and flying through the air. Instead, I took one look at the line and burst into tears.
It was then that I realized I had signed up to jump off the side of a mountain at extreme speed while attached to a cord.
I made it only a few feet before reaching for the cord I was attached to and stopping, leaving myself hanging in mid-air, sobbing. I went a few more feet this way, stop-and-go like a fool, before finally letting myself go. By the time I made it to the end of the line, it was already my turn again. At this point, I was completely out of my mind with fear and adrenaline. Out of pity or a fear of having a crazy blonde American girl trapped in mid-air on their zip-line, the man who was accompanying our group offered to ride the next line with me.
I kept my eyes shut and screamed bloody murder the entire time, but I made it. Somewhere during the next two line, the man who I was attached to noticed that I was still keeping my eyes firmly shut, although I had finally stopped screaming.
“Mira, mira!” he yelled, pointing to our left. I finally did. A blanket of green, tropical forest, and in the background, the lake and volcanoes that defined the landscape. It was maybe the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I kept my eyes open from then on.
I eventually grew brave enough to want to zip-line on my own, but my new friend refused. “Too dangerous,” he told me. We began to chat as we flew through the air, exchanging names and pleasantries.
“Mucho gusto! Gracias!” I yelled, trying to remember high school Spanish. “Mucho gusto!” he replied.
We finished our adventure and went back to the city, where we met up with the rest of our group in a coffee shop. They asked me how it had been.
“I cried the entire time. It was so much fun!”
I guess the moral of this story is that if you want to become fearless, you should probably expect to end up flying between two mountains with a Guatemalan man strapped to your back.