I have never considered myself fearless. I avoid walking over suspension bridges and my bucket list will never include climbing to the top of Mt. Everest.
Recently I encountered parents that led me to think more about the nature of being fearless. These parents encouraged their children to choose colleges that would provide challenges and opportunities for them to stretch beyond their comfort zone, at the expense of being close to home and within reach. I call this fearless love—a gift of not constraining their children.
When my daughters each reached the age of 18, I reflected on what I was doing at that age—I was a sophomore in college and spending a semester studying in England followed by several months wandering the continent. This experience included hitchhiking (never alone), sleeping on trains, and going to the end of a train line in Norway to catch a 24 hour ferry ride to spend the longest day of the year north of the Arctic Circle—alone. It also included a very sketchy round-trip arrangement from Brindisi, Italy to Greece which included being stranded in Corfu en route, a train strike in Italy, and feeling the hand of a train conductor on my leg in the middle of the night. My mother later told me that she woke up in the middle of the night and felt she needed to pray for me. The phrase my fellow travelers and I used to recall that particular leg of the trip was: It isn’t easy getting to Brindisi.
What were my parents thinking? No internet, extremely rare and expensive phone calls—letters that I picked up at the American Express office only if my parents correctly anticipated where I was. What WERE my parents thinking? They only asked that they eventually have a chance to come meet me to join the adventure, and that there be comfortable hotel accommodations.
It is always a choice—do you take the safe route, or do you take a risk? I moved my daughters, aged 10 and 13, to New Zealand for a semester. In the midst of the arrangements I recall thinking that this was just too much work! Why didn’t I just take my sabbatical and stay home? But then again, that would mean I would be staying home… We went to New Zealand and I mastered driving on the left side of the road, consciously modeling for my daughters that I wasn’t too old to push myself out of my comfort zone.
Recently a colleague and I were talking about the less-than-wise things we had done in our lives—the types of things that might have gotten you killed that you didn’t want your parents to know about. I lit up just thinking of a particular experience in New Zealand. It began with the fact that I had a 4 wheel drive vehicle for a couple of months. We lived with friends who had two young daughters. Richard suggested that, along with his wife Penelope, we all take our girls in this 4 wheel drive vehicle around the end of Cape Palliser, a 13 kilometer off-road track that ran around the southeast edge of the North Island. Who was I to argue with a local?
Richard called a friend to check out the safety of the trip. We made a lunch of scrambled eggs sandwiches, packed the cooler, and headed out. First stop was the Cape Palliser lighthouse at the end of the road. At the beginning of the track we waited for someone to come through, again checking that it would be safe. All systems were go, having gotten some advice about one particular part of the track. The word was to stay to the left in the “desert,” a sandy beach early in the route. As an extra caution, we decided to follow another vehicle.
Needless to say, we got stuck in the desert, not realizing that we needed to physically turn something on the wheels to turn on the 4 wheel drive. That solved, we proceeded. At one point we had to drive along a one-lane sand ledge with drop offs of several hundred feet. As we went around the ledge, my daughter who was sitting in the front seat screamed—turn around!!! In the meantime the younger girls were all being fed chocolate by Penelope in the backseat. And at that point, Penelope felt compelled to tell me that my insurance didn’t cover a vehicle on roads like this. The young men in the car in front of us assured us that this was the worst of the track. Well, maybe not… First the desert, then the sand ledge with the drop-off into the ocean, and then the track ascended a rock mountainside at a 75% grade up, and then down. We made it. But the windy (paved) road home left the girls carsick so the screams turned to moans. For days afterward, the adults would just look at each other and shake their heads.
I still don’t do Ferris Wheels, I avoid swing bridges, and I once gave away my ticket for bungee jumping. I really didn’t see the point. But get me thinking about getting to the Chatham Islands by cargo ship, or to Hudson Bay by train across the tundra, and I might start dreaming and scheming…Surely there would be a way…
Bless all the parents who give their children the gift of being allowed to go, to be risk-takers (and for praying for their safety). It gives us adventures to share.