Spirit Guides, draw near! I beseech them, as I inch slowly backward. I’m not usually a “spirit guides” kind of person, but that seems to be changing fast. Under the circumstances, praying to Spirit Guides strikes me as the best possible idea—not that I’m thinking clearly just now. No, my brain is a boggle of STOP! And DON’T! And HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND?
Worse, my every muscle aches from all of the weekend’s earlier stunts—sleeping on the cold, hard ground; hiking long miles over rough terrain, lugging a backpack almost bigger than I am; climbing steep rock faces; eating, like, twigs, with not a couch or a cushion in sight. But now the pain is just a distraction from the serious matter at hand. Willing myself backward, I take another fraction of a baby step toward the cliff.
Oh! Did I forget to mention the cliff?
Yes, as a participant in one of those group outings designed to change your life, I’ve come to this beautiful mountain setting on a gorgeous summer day to do nothing less than step off a cliff. I’m on assignment, actually, here to defy death then write about it later, for readers to experience vicariously from the comfort of their cushiony couches. The magazine even got me in for free. And to think, I fancy with a chuckle, those five women huddled over there, my “troop mates,” quaking and nail-biting as they await their turn… they actually had to pay to be terrified like this!
OK, focus. Focus!
“I can do this,” I whisper.
“Yes, you can,” says Eva, our fearless leader. “You can do this.”
Already it seems an eternity since she helped me rig up with straps and carabiners, and showed me how to tie the harness around my pelvis and thread the rope just so. The Rope! Its one end is anchored firmly around a large rock formation up ahead, and its other dangles down, down, down behind me, some scary long drop to the desert floor.
Don’t even think about that, about how far down—
“HEY, IS EVERYTHING ALRIGHT UP THERE?” As if on cue, a voice issues up from far below, providing an aural clue as to the dizzying depth. That would be Janet, our other fearless leader, ready to receive me and my mates, one by one, as we touch down. But I, having drawn the short straw, am still way up here, leaving her to wonder about our progress—or lack of it.
Eva fixes me with a gaze that says, You answer her.
“Coming!” I call, in a voice I would never have recognized as my own had I not just forced it out of my throat. Dutifully, I step backward, two baby steps this time!
Spirit Guides! Spirit Guides!
I look at my fingers holding fast to the rope, their knuckles white, their brightly polished nails now dirty and ragged, and wonder again at my reason for accepting this assignment. What was it, exactly? It’s not as if I lack for work, not as if I really need the money. As freelancers go, I’m doing alright—staying busy, earning a comfortable income.
Comfortable. My heart trips on the word. Is that it? Am I too comfortable? For years I had struggled, first to kick butt as the best in my class; then to thrive in a career that, sad to realize, didn’t suit me; later to fly daringly into self-employment, an instant newbie trying to establish herself as a writer. But now? Established, working steadily, a bit of notoriety under my belt… OK, maybe life has become too comfortable. Maybe my spirit grows sleepy; my soul, bored.
Eva clears her throat. I look her way just in time to catch her checking her watch. Alright, alright, I get it! So I’m holding up the whole shootin’ match. Another step backward, not so ‘baby’ this time. Then another. And another. Toward the abyss.
How far to go yet? I wonder. Glancing back, I catch my breath. The rock surface, so solid beneath my boots, just…ends! Right there! Ever so slightly, I test my weight against the rope. It holds. I lean a little harder into the harness. Still holding. Good, good.
Are you there, Guides? It’s me, Sheila.
“I can do this,” I intone like a mantra for what seems like the thousandth time. “If other people can do it, then so can I.”
“Yes, you can,” Eva says, repeating her mantra. (Hey! Is it my imagination, or did she just stifle a yawn?)
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Sheila!” It’s my mother’s voice now, a sound that never fails to make an appearance in my head at times like this, times of doubt. “Why are you always acting like you have something to prove? It’s your life, is all. Just live it, for heaven’s sake! There’s no need to make it more complicated.”
For heaven’s sake. If Mom has said that once, she’s said it a thousand times. Literally! Quick, another few steps now, before my sisters show up, too, razzing me into submission.
Oh yeah? I square my jaw. I don’t see YOU stepping off a cliff with nothing but a rope to save you. Think I don’t dare? Just watch me!
Two bigger, more purposeful steps now and, suddenly—how ‘bout that?—I reach the precipice, at last. I crane my neck carefully over the edge to view teeny-tiny Janet, a thousand miles below. She waves up at me. Without even thinking, I drop the rope, return her wave, then take the rope back up.
“Best keep a hold of that rope,” Eva says quietly, evenly.
“Of course,” I say, but it’s no longer me. In a move that comes naturally—which should surprise me, but doesn’t—I wag my heels back and forth, setting my toes just right, the way baseball players do when they’re up to bat. In my periphery, I sense my quaking troop mates hold their collective breath. A couple more tiny adjustments and my heels arch out over thin air, causing exhilaration such as I’ve never known.
I shoot Eva a knowing smile. She nods.
“Here goes,” I hear myself announce, then in a stronger voice, “Wide awake now!” With that, I draw a breath, feel my Spirit Guides encircle me, and—with amazing ease—step off the cliff.
Sheila Key is Adironnda & Company’s team writer and editor. A freelancer since 1990, she has written for publications ranging from corporate business journals to spiritual and holistic magazines to anthologies of poetry and art. Her book, 50 Ways to Leave Your 40s: Living It Up in Life’s Second Half, was published in 2008 by New World Library, in Novato, California. Sheila lives with her husband, two children and a couple of four-leggers, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. If she’s not at her desk, try the garden.