I sat in a circle with five 18-year old girls in the front yard of a
northern Minnesota cabin. The night sky sparkled above us, but we felt
like we were drowning in darkness. For six weeks we had paddled
through 24-hour daylight in the Canadian Arctic. This cabin was meant
to be our last respite before going home, yet the beauty of the starry
night was lost on us as the girls contemplated returning to civilization,
college and a new life.
Only a few days before this group had been boisterous and confident.
Now, they were sad and contemplative. “I thought I was strong,” one
lamented, “On trail, I felt like I could do anything. But now, it’s
hard. I’m scared to leave this behind.” I paused before responding. It
was true; on trail, she had paddled whitewater, navigated the ocean,
portaged canoes through relentless winds and met all the challenges of
wilderness travel. Now, the moment after sunset, the noise and speed
of cars, even talking to anyone outside of our group was intimidating.
Yet I couldn’t entirely empathize. I was tired and ready to release
the reigns of leadership.
Then I remembered sitting in the Winnipeg airport, waiting to set out
for a remote Canadian town at the beginning of our trip. I had been
struck by a sudden fear of the responsibility that lay ahead and a
strong urge to go home. I knew it was irrational to think I had any
chance of backing out, that the rewards in going would be far greater
than the trepidations of that moment. But still… I had been scared.
With the memory my answer came quietly. Being strong didn’t mean that
things were easy. It meant that when they were overwhelming you did
what you needed to do. Often, the rewards outweighed the risks, or at the very least you grew stronger. I was surprised by this unexpected piece of wisdom, a belief I didn’t know I
had until I said it out loud. It was liberating. I could be scared and
strong. It was ok to meet a challenge with butterflies in my stomach.
We all could.
The realization filled the night air around us, and for the first time
in what felt like a long time, we could sit and watch the night sky.
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