Of all of the strange questions I have been asked, one of the most memorable was posed by a dubious and unyieldingly brave 10-year-old girl named Avie Robles.
Are you afraid of heights or are you afraid of falling?”
What a needless question, I had thought. What, I had wondered, was the point of being afraid of heights if you weren’t afraid of falling. Wasn’t the answer obvious?
I found myself fumbling for a response. The answer was not obvious at all.
It’s amazing how much subtlety and repression can be unearthed by a child’s simple question.
This past weekend, my peers and I traveled to Hampi, Karnataka.
The ancient southern village was exceedingly handsome and full of architectural marvels. However, the beauty of my trip is subset to my purpose for mentioning it.
In Hampi, my group set out to hike Matunga Hill. The hike is internationally known for being tedious, energizing, and ultimately rewarding. Unfortunately, for much of the climb, I was in a state of near panic.
It was this hiking experience- one riddled with expletives and calls for divine intervention- that sparked my answer to Avie’s question (nearly 6 years later).
There are some questions that shouldn’t be asked until a person is mature enough to appreciate the answers.”― Anne Bishop
I am neither afraid of heights nor am I afraid of falling. I am simply afraid of slipping up.
For many, many years I struggled with an indiscriminate performance and social anxiety. No matter the size, weight, or prestige of an endeavor, I could always count on my nerves to flare up, rendering me almost useless and leaving me devastated at my failure.
It was a handicap that took me years to overcome. And despite the vast improvements I have made, fragments of my insecurities still haunt me to this day.
This brings us back to my group hiking trip. As I stood, hesitantly horrified, at a narrow mountain ledge, I realized that my fear lay not in how high I was or how far I might fall but rather in the possibility that I might slip up and disappoint everyone.
In the end, I made it to the top of the mountain. I conquered my anxiety and have the pictures to prove it. In truth, it was an objectively pleasant hike with a ripe reward.
On a larger scale, my hiking adventures taught me more about myself than I ever would have guessed.
As I began the equally frightening mountainous descent, I realized the parallels between my fear of hiking and fear of love.
The problem with falling in love is that there is no universally accepted finish line. When I made it to the top of Matunga Hill, I took my photos and descended– confident that I had made it as far as I could go.
But there is no peak in love– no ancient ruin at the top to signal completion.
Love doesn’t grant you the benefit of completion. It is an eternal process which can only be interrupted by loss or failure.
In some ways, I feel like Sisyphus. On one hand, I will never stop trying to push the boulder of my love up the hill of life, reciprocation, and circumstance. But, like me, I’m rather sure that Sisyphus lived in constant fear of the moment when- like every other time- the earth beneath his feet would shift and he’d slip hopelessly bruised back to the bottom of his mountain.
How vulnerable Sisyphus must have felt, how foolish. This is precisely how I feel about love and climbing.
There is scarcely any passion without struggle.” ―Albert Camus
In order to fall in love, one has to open themselves up to the pain, possibilities, and profit that come along with it. Love requires you to be terrifyingly exposed with no possibility of escaping unscathed.
First best is falling in love. Second best is being in love. Least best is falling out of love. But any of it is better than never having been in love.” ―Maya Angelou
But if falling in love is synonymous with the perilous experience of climbing a mountain, then the cycle can only be completed by the eventual descent.
At some point, I will have to stop falling in love and start being in love, living in love, and walking in love. In order for this to happen, I will have to abandon my crippling fear of slipping up and embrace the vulnerable spirit that love demands.
Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ―Brené Brown