Attack of the Tree

There I was, flying along thinking everything was going fine. It had started well, but a few minutes into the flight things got rough and I thought for a bit there I might have lost control. But then, I regained control, and I was beginning to enjoy it again.

Then bam, I fly right into a tree I didn’t even see. There I am, standing there holding the remote control, looking up at my plane stuck in this tree that seemed to grow out of nowhere. This is not a metaphor; I actually crashed my remote control airplane into a tree, the very first time I took it out to fly.

The family kicking a soccer ball nearby — it was a soccer field after all — looked over at me to see how I’d react. The little ones had been busier watching the plane flying than they had been kicking the ball. Now one of them had their hand over their mouth in a look of alarm, waiting for what was going to happen next.

Without even really considering other options, I jogged over to the tree, and started climbing.

About half the way up I realized there was a good stretch of the trunk without any branches large enough to support me. To keep going I was going to have to jump/shimmy up the trunk. So I did, careful to keep an arm or a leg tight around something at all times.

About two thirds of the way up I realized that I was now up high enough that a fall from this height would be far worse than a mere inconvenience. But the plane was so close, after a moment of uncertainty, I decided I had to push forward.

I had to catch my breadth first. This was not easy climbing. Or perhaps, as the first tree I’ve climbed in longer than I can remember, its possible that I had forgotten how tiring tree climbing can be. I forced myself to pause, catch my breadth, and take stock of the situation.

I’m not terrified of heights, but I’m not in love with them either. Looking around, for the first time, gave me a great view of the surrounding area. There was my apartment complex, across the way. Up the nearby hill is the campus of Loyola Marymount University. The soccer family isn’t the only one looking up at me from below, some high school students have noticed what I’m doing, and paused to watch. Chances are someone who is watching is weighing the odds on whether or not I’m going to fall. I think to myself that I really don’t want to fall, those people down there would not like to witness what happens when someone hits the ground from an unreasonable height.

I push on, and try not to think too hard about how much thinner the branches are up this high. Trying to shake the plane loose wasn’t working from further below, but I try again just in case. No luck. Another full body height up the tree and I can reach it with my hands. But those thin branches mean I have to be much more careful, not putting my full weight on any single branch. This complicates the climb, slowing me down. By this point I’m sweating profusely, and have transitioned from nervousness to fear.

Sometimes being afraid is the appropriate response. Fear can be a sign that you are paying attention. Being afraid is not the problem, its what you do with it. I’ve said these kinds of things for years. I’ve come to realize that I have little patience for those ruled by fear. I’ll work very hard to help someone see that fear doesn’t have to control them, but if I can’t get them past their fear I flip a switch. Whatever it takes I’ll work to remove that person from the organization — fear spreads like cancer, and even one fearful person is enough to destroy a whole team, left untreated.

Does all of that advice mean anything in the face of actual, if-things-go-wrong-I-might-die fear? As I’m reaching out to grab my toy this dialog is running its course in my head. Of course it does, I decide. Letting fear control me is akin to doing something stupid, slipping, falling, and, well, that would lead to bad things. Acknowledge the fear, but don’t let it control you. Reach out and grab the plane, but don’t forget to stay glued to the trunk, free limbs wrapped around whatever branches I can.

And like that I had the plane.

Getting down was easier, as long as I took it slowly. Within a few feet I was able to drop the plane, confident it would not get stuck again. Watching it glide down safely was almost a let down. The sweat had passed, as the fear had abated. I kept my cool through it, and accomplished my goal.

The rest of the way down I just felt silly. What was I thinking, climbing that tree? What was I thinking, still playing with toys? What was I thinking, moving to a city where I knew no one? What was I thinking?

I was thinking that I won’t let anyone keep me from building the life I want. I may not be with her any more, and I may not have had any choice in the matter. But how I handle what happened is up to me. And if moving to a brand new city, if climbing a damn tree, is what it takes then so be it.

I got back to my empty apartment — my stuff doesn’t show up for several for more days — and put the toy plane away, for now. The first flight may not have gone exactly as planned, but I know I’ll soon be trying again. From the morning I first moved out, days after we split up, I had come to realize that there was only one thing to do. I had to. keep trying. I had to keep going. And I’ll keep doing that as long as I can.

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