My dad said to me once, “There was a time when you were fearless.” He was referring to my early childhood, when I was maybe four or five, a time when I would do anything. Up to that point I’d never had cause to feel like I should be afraid, but more than that, something in my personality seemed geared that way. If I wanted to do something, nothing was going to keep me from it. After I gained weight, though, that fearlessness vanished. I often wondered what happened to it. Was it simply crushed beneath the layers of fat, spark extinguished beyond any hope of resurrection? Or might it someday emerge, phoenix-like, granting me the freedom to soar above the fear? After losing weight and climbing Katahdin and various other things, I’ve felt close to that, but it was never quite the same – until this weekend. I wasn’t looking for it, but perhaps that was why I found it. I was hiking Hamlin Ridge (one of the trails on Katahdin) with my brother and my niece, with no clear goal except that we had decided early on not to go to the top. I figured my brother would be able to, but I wasn’t convinced I could, even with my training (going up and down my stairs 2-3 times a week for 20-25 minutes, sometimes with a backpack weighing up to 20 pounds). I also suspected my niece wouldn’t go that high, since she hadn’t done any hiking or preparation, plus she doesn’t like exposed heights. To my astonishment, I was doing fine, better than both of them. My brother was feeling really tired, possibly from dehydration, but whatever the reason, the fact was that I was capable of more than I had imagined. I realized in that moment that I could go to the top. And so, looking up the rock scramble, I said without a moment’s concern, “I’m going to go a little higher on my own.” It wasn’t until I was clambering hand and feet up the nearly sheer boulders – and enjoying it – that the significance hit me. Here I was, going up on my own, no concerns about not being able to make it (even coming down), no fear of being alone, only exhilaration at the views. That’s when I felt it, like I was four years old again, unscarred by the world, ready for anything.
In that moment, I felt like I was flying. I didn’t actually go all the way up, since I didn’t want to worry my brother and niece, but knowing that I could made a huge difference. Even now, back on the ground, I can feel those wings in me, quiescent for the moment, but ready to take me wherever I want to go, fearless.