Into the Fold
Imagine you are 13 and you're content with your life. Maybe not ecstatic, there's things that could be better, but for the most part you're doing pretty well all things considered. You're about to make some changes as you get out of middle school and into high school and you're a bit nervous but also excited to move on. Your teenage crush is responsible for the smile on your face. Imagine you're going through all these things and many more on a walk home. It's hot outside, summer just started. Imagine you know the way you're walking home because the route you're taking goes right by your school. Imagine that you have no reason to worry about anything.
As you walk past the school and through a housing development you see two kids walking in the opposite direction on the other side of the street. One of them is bouncing a basketball. Imagine you can hear the basketball, its bounces echoing in the street. It's the middle of the day but the streets are completely empty. No one is out on their front lawn. No one is driving by.
Imagine them closer now. Close enough to distinguish facial features. One of them keeps the basketball bouncing as they walk down the street. Then they cross the street to your side. Imagine a lump the size of a tennis ball lodge in your throat. You can't stop the anxiety from building. It's quite possible you can see your heart beating through your shirt. Imagine every nerve ending in the pit of your stomach come alive like chambered bullets attached to a hair trigger ready to fire and in a fraction of a second the weakness in your legs lets you know everything about this day is about to end horribly wrong and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
As you are about to pass each other on the sidewalk time slows down to 3000 frames per second and a fear washes over you that seems to last for an eon. And then it happens. Without a single cause or provocation you are attacked. One of them swings a wide hook that connects with the corner of your mouth. Two knuckles make contact with the lower part of your nostril and the force of the impact rocks through you. Suddenly you feel like a cheap folding lawn chair. Thankfully the sudden shock prevents you from really feeling what has just started happening. Imagine you almost go down but you maintain just enough control to stay on your feet. As you double over, numb from the shock, the other boy kicks you square in the mouth. Now imagine the rubber on his over-sized basketball sneakers rudely presses against your lips, pushing the soft skin flat against your teeth, and then past them as they shatter. Imagine you can taste flecks of granulated bone on the surface of your tongue. Imagine you find a fraction of a second to run the tip of your tongue on what is left of your front teeth. What you experience is jagged and uneven. Imagine the taste of iron in the back of your throat as you generously swallow blood and bits of teeth. Finally, imagine that you suck in a breath so you don't pass out from to the shock. When you take in that first breath, you feel pain for the first time. It feels as if someone stuck a handful of syringes in your gums and pressed up on all of them at the same time. Imagine the roots of your teeth are exposed. Imagine that your self-worth is in as many pieces as your teeth. Imagine that for the rest of your life, you will always be self conscious of your smile.
Imagine that every bad experience you've ever had since birth up until this point is conceivably forgivable. But this? Imagine this is your tipping point. From here on out you grow up with immeasurable amounts of mistrust. A shadow of doubt is cast over all your experiences. Everything is suspicious and everyone is suspect. You fight to get away from anything and everything that even remotely feels like a threat often including things that aren't. You grow increasingly distant from your family. Over time you develop a heightened awareness of all your surroundings as a means of survival for the dangerous situations your decisions often land you in. Imagine that everything you do, how you dress, where you hang out, what music you listen to, who you make friends with, is all carefully analyzed and then meticulously selected as a means of preventing what happened on that walk home from ever happening again. As a result, imagine that you are now on an island in a very rough sea and you've come to believe that the only person you can truly count on is yourself.
If you can imagine all this maybe you can begin to grasp the idea of what climbing has done for me as a means of personal growth. It contradicts every ugly thing I came to accept as truth about the world and the people in it. It challenged every negative aspect I had about myself as a person. Probably most importantly, it reintroduced a sense of safety and security back into my environment. If you can imagine the consequences of the psychological trauma from that summer day and what they did to shape my personality as a young man then maybe you can begin to understand why climbing isn't just something I do, it's more like something I live. Sure at times it's a sport to me but more often it's a way of life; a life preserver that I hold on to so that I can make sense of everything around me.
I have such a profound feeling of gratitude for climbing and all the people I meet that are involved in it. Most people might be surprised to find out how tightly I hold on to all the experiences and encounters that I live through and I do everything I can to commit them to memory. Nothing is trivial. Those rare moments when I have brief but meaningful conversations about life with my friend Rachel, dancing to songs with words with my friend Thanh, witnessing the unconditional generosity put forth by friends like Christina and Leon, taking in the energy and motivation I get from training with Cameron and Missy, every time I'm invited to dinner at Steven and Veronica's house and I'm greeted with the most earnest hug, recalling a decade of adventures with my friend Erin, candidly recognizing just how intelligent and talented people like my friend Cameron K. are, observing the care that goes into teaching classes from Brett, coming up with ways to make the gym and the shop an even better experience for our guests and friends with Matt, watching horror flicks over pizza and the stiffest rum and cokes ever with my friend Skyler, spending time with my nephews at the gym, holding all my friends' babies, watching their families grow over time, shooting the breeze with Bob and being able to finally go out for a beer with his kids now that they are old enough, inspired by my friend Bill's success and his uncanny ability to understand business, and the list goes on with every single person that's in our group of friends and even those that aren't directly in our group but are a part of the larger collective. I repeat, nothing is trivial and I hold on to all of it.
Imagine that I hold on to this lifestyle in a way even a vice grip would envy because it is here that I feel accepted, I feel allowed to contribute, I feel allowed to lead or follow, I feel allowed to make mistakes. It makes me feel like I can trust once again without prejudice like you do when you're little and the only thing that is important is that you feel the security and love provided by the people around you. I feel a sense of safety that comes out like a tremendous 16 year long sigh of relief. It's a feeling I can't get enough of. It's part of the reason I love getting everyone together in big groups, I just never had that type of experience growing up. I want to harvest all that positive energy that I get from all my climbing friends, package it up and give it away to everyone else I come in contact with because it's so healing. It allows me to experience what it's like to be naturally kind without feeling like it's a weakness to be exploited for amusement or personal gain from those around me. It allows me (and this is important) to be forgiving of myself.
If you can relate to any part of the previous paragraphs, then you can understand why this shop is something unique when compared to anything else. You can begin to understand why I say this feels like a vehicle for a movement, fluid in ideas contributed by our individualities free of judgment and open for all to experience. You can begin to understand the impact we have and why each person is essential to the group. You can see how the sense of belonging and acceptance that we receive is returned to others. You may think that when you come here you are merely engaging in a form of exercise while you're socializing, that your're starting a new hobby, that you're just purchasing equipment. For those that stick around, you realize that you have found a place where your contribution as an individual matters because you matter. You have something unique to offer that no one else can duplicate and you will come to realize that you can make a difference the way all my friends have made a difference in my personal growth.