Reaching for The Third Monkey Bar

“Come help me jump to the third monkey bar. I’m scared.” #2 called out.

When I got to the monkey bars, I watched #2 jump effortlessly to the second bar. Time and again. #2 has been able to get to that second bar for months now. Until today, #2 hasn’t even considered jumping to the third bar. Until now, that third bar has been unquestionably out of reach. Today, #2 wants to try to reach it.

#2 bends down to jump but then stumbles forward. #2 asks for help. So next time, I give #2 the extra momentum and time to reach the third bar. #2 jumps off the platform and sails through air with arms outstretched and, with help, grabs that third bar. After a dozen times #2 wants to try it without my help. #2 crouches, jumps, flails, and misses, walks back over to the wooden platform and does it all again, and again, and again.

I can see that #2 could do this without my help, but #2 can’t see that. For #2, it is still too scary. The third monkey bar is just out of reach.

Who among us hasn’t stood at the edge of some platform (metaphorical or real) unable to jump off. For me, it was the high dive at the local public pool. I had mastered the low and middle dive. I could do front dives, back dives, cannonballs, flips (double flips off the middle dive), you name it my 7-year-old self could do it. I jumped off them with my eyes closed. But the high dive was a different story. Countless times I waited my turn, climbed the ladder, walked out to the end, and stood there. Then turned around, walked back, and climbed down the ladder, only to repeat the process later that day and again the next. I was scared. Finally, toward the end of the summer, perhaps sensing that my chance to beat the high dive was rapidly dwindling, I climbed up, walked out, and just jumped.

I never mastered the high dive as I did the other two, but I had negotiated an agreement with it. While I enjoyed the thrill of falling all that way into the pool and liked the splash I made as I hit the water, I never dove off the high dive. All I ever did was jump.

For most of that summer the high dive thwarted me, until that one afternoon when I triumphed. Sure, I failed a hundred times, but in the end I succeeded. Failure would have been to stop climbing that ladder, stop walking to the edge, stop trying to jump. Success is continuing to try despite the fear.

#2 is struggling with the same thing right now: jumping off and reaching for something beyond your grasp. Today, The Third Monkey Bar was still a little too far away. But tomorrow or the day after that, it won’t be.

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