lessons learned: of squirrels and tightropes

You’re taught at an early age, especially if you’re being raised by high-achieving perfectionist parents… you get on the tightrope and you hold your breath.  I was in my mid-thirties when I discovered that if you fall off the tightrope, it’s about a foot and a half to the ground. And that there’s always someone around to help you get up and dust off your butt and help you get started again.

~Anne Lamott

Have you ever watched squirrels leap through the trees?  I don’t mean carefully climb a trunk and inch down a branch–I


mean throwing all caution to the wind, letting go of one limb and jumping courageously onto the next.  It can be quite spellbinding.

When I was in college, I had a friend say to me, “You know, when we were kids, teachers would always ask, ‘If you could be any animal, what would you choose?’  Everyone always chose a bird because birds can fly and go anywhere.  I always chose a squirrel because how many animals do you know that can free fall from tree to tree and still remain standing?”  In the midst of my young adult insecurity, I remember pondering on that one, thinking how amazing it must feel to be that brave.

As an adult, however, I realized that the balancing act squirrels have mastered isn’t really brave.  No, uh-huh.  It’s instinct, second nature, for them to do what they do.

Falling is the part that requires courage.

In an effort to teach us to be independent, society pushes us out on that tightrope at an early age, encouraging us to tiptoe forward–sometimes, before we’re even ready.  So we teeter and totter as folks stand on the edge cheering us on or waiting with bated breath.

But we are not squirrels, and inevitably, we fall off the wire.  Like Anne Lamott, it’s then we realize that the tightrope is only a few inches off the ground, but the embarrassment, shame or anxiety we feel about not being perfect or independent often paralyzes us as if we’ve fallen thousands of feet.

Listen up, here’s where the courage part comes in–it is at this point that you choose how your journey will continue.

jumping off the tightrope

Yes, it would be easy to sit there on the ground for a minute, red-faced and stunned, then casually shrugging it off and hopping back on the wire.

But I have learned this–accepting your mistakes, appreciating your humanness, and asking for help does an amazing thing.  It frees you from the tightrope.  Yes, it really does because at the point that you open your heart and spirit to let people or your Maker help you, you are not out there journeying alone.  You have someone holding you up, balancing you to keep you from falling, or catching you when you do.

The next time you see a squirrel–take time to observe with awe.  It is pretty amazing to witness such skill.  Remember though, even the squirrel doesn’t go it alone.  It takes the arms of a tree to catch that squirrel.

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