One of my favorite activities at deaf-blind camp is wall climbing. Despite my blindness and physical disabilities, I love to climb that wall. It's a personal challenge. It's a way to prove to myself that I can do anything I set my mind on. Conquering the wall is like overcoming all doubts about myself. It's measurable proof that I can succeed in life.
I probably would never have even considered attempting to climb the wall if it hadn't been for my SSP the first year I attend camp. I was still in a wheel chair much of the time. I was weak and couldn't walk far. It seemed silly that she would even suggest I climb the wall. She was a great SSP. She believed I could do anything and gave me the encouragement I needed to try.
So I did it. They strapped me into the harness and up I went... sort of. My hands and feet kept slipping off the wall and I'd find myself hanging in the harness. They probably pulled me up more than I actually climbed. Talk about major wedgie. But I got up there and that alone was thrilling. I was shocked when they brought me down and I was able to see just how high I had climbed. I was about half way up the wall when I quit.
It excited me. I felt good. I was proud of my unexpected achievement. I was basking in the praise of others around me who had witnessed the climb. It was a special moment for me.
During my second year at camp, I was ready to try again. So much in my life was out of control by then. The wall was something that I could control. It was me and the wall and nothing was going to stop me.
A very nice woman was working at the wall that year. She actually climbed up with me and helped place my hands and feet on the pegs. This time, I was actually able to climb more than hang. Suddenly, everything I had achieved in a year was quite clear to me. I was obviously stronger. Climbing that wall was proof to me that I was still getting better. It was something I really needed to know. The wall answered those questions for me.
I was beyond determined. I would get to the top of that wall and nothing would stop me. Deaf-blindness would not stop me. Physical limitations would not stop me. An abusive husband would not stop me. I would conquer it all.
Well, I didn't make it to the top. I was one peg short. I just couldn't get to the last peg no matter how much I tried. I didn't know it was the last one at the time. If I had, I'd probably still be there today trying to make it up.
Although I didn't reach the top, I still felt like I was on top of the world. I went so much higher than I had the year before. I really was better. Everyone was so amazed by my accomplishment. I was the talk of camp that day. I was so proud and happy.
Another year went by. At my third year at camp, I was so eager to climb the wall that I was the very first person there. Since we were the first camp session of the season, I was the first person that year to climb the wall. It didn't go well.
The guy working the wall was a jerk. He wouldn't help in any way. I couldn't find the pegs. He hadn't dusted off the wall or cleared the debris. There were twigs and dead leaves all over the pegs. My hands kept slipping off. I finally gave up in defeat.
That was a dark moment for me. All my hopes were on the wall. I needed to climb that wall to prove something to myself. Instead, I proved that I was a failure. I wasn't any better. I wasn't stronger. I couldn't even climb a stupid wall. How was I supposed to face the harsh realities of my life?
I didn't attend camp for the next three years. I wanted to, but there was too much going on at the time. I had finally left my abusive husband. We were in the midst of a heated divorce and nasty custody battle. I had to stay home with my son. It's where I was most needed.
Life is calmer now. My divorce is final and I won custody of my son. After three years, he's secure enough that it would be okay for me to leave for one week. So I was finally able to return to camp.
It happened this year. I did it. I finally conquered the wall. The amazing part is that I never even touched the thing. I didn't have to. I no longer needed to.
The wall that I climbed at camp was just a symbol. It was something there I could challenge. It was safe. It wouldn't retaliate. Each peg up represented a step in trying to control a most uncontrollable life. But it was never real.
Eventually, I challenged the real monsters in my life. I faced the real problem. As scary as it was, I was determined to come out ahead. It took years. One step at a time. But in the end, I found my peace and happiness. That's what really matters.
The wall... It's just a wall now. It's a game. It's something fun. I let the younger and stronger campers have the wall this year. I don't need three days of sore muscles to prove to myself that I can succeed. I know I can. I conquered the real wall. I conquered the real world.
(Written on July 1, 2009)