In the spring of 1976, I left Oklahoma at the end of my sophomore year at Oklahoma State University and headed to Minneapolis, Minnesota to see my younger brother.  I was 20 years old and my brother was a 17 year old living in a half-way house for recovering adolescent addicts and alcoholics.   There were many mixed emotions and thoughts about this reunion, “maybe if I had been a better big brother he wouldn’t be an alcoholic” but something just pulled me on towards him.  Upon arriving the community of young addicts welcomed me and provided a strong sense of community and belonging.

I was sleeping in my truck and thought I would be gone within a few days, but the community kept inviting me to participate in their activities, including group therapy.   Soon I was staying at the half-way house as a ‘weekend supervisor’.  In the midst of this recovering community, the relationship between my brother and I was healing in unexpected ways and the connections and caring amongst these young recovering addicts was opening new worlds in my experience.   A rock climbing expedition was planned for the Wisconsin Dells and being invited to come along, I was excited in anticipation of learning a new skill.

Near our camp were a few rock faces (cliffs) that were set up with a ‘top belay’ system, which is when the instructor/guide/facilitator was on top with a secure anchor rope and would belay each climber up the rock face as we climbed.  My first climb was exhilarating.  It was both scary and challenging while trusting in the rope and our guide, Paul.   There were about 12 of us taking turns and in turn, supporting each other as they faced the adversity of the climb.   In the afternoon, I found myself sitting ‘on top’ next to Paul as a young girl was getting ‘on belay’ down below.   Paul said “on belay?” and she responded ‘Belay on!”.   Then “climbing!” Paul exclaimed, “climb on!”.   She appeared to be maybe 15 or 16 years old, very rough looking wearing shabby clothes and messy hair and face.   I could tell her life had been a rough journey through her addiction and who knows what else.   She had not gone very far up the rock face when she said “let me down.  I can’t do this.”   Paul responded by saying “I believe you can do this.  I trust your desire to climb.  Just rest and take a breath and we will go when you are ready.”   For a moment, it was silent, then the girl boldly exclaimed, “I told you to let me down from here you %#$@*!!  I ain’t doing this!!”.   I was thinking ‘Paul you need to let her down.  She does not want to do this.”  There was Paul, so calm and clear, ‘you are angry and that is alright.  I’ve got you. I won’t let you fall.  Maybe you have a lot to be angry about and I’m okay with that.  Just take your time, I know we can do this.’

I told you to let me down you #&@#!!

She immediately responded with “I told you to let me down you #&@#!!”  “Don’t you know I’ve never done nothing!”  “Just like everyone knows, I am a worthless loser!”  Suddenly, it was silent.  The other teenagers had gathered at the top of the cliff with Paul and myself.   Quietly peering down the face of the cliff in silence, we heard her weeping.   Deep sorrow, deep, painful sobbing.  No words.  Solemn silence.  No movement.  After what seemed an eternity, probably just a few minutes, Paul said “I’m here.  We’re here.  It’s safe.  We’ve got you.”  “When you are ready, I’m ready.”  More sobbing came from down below.   Within a few more moments, in a broken voice, barely audible she said ‘climbing’.   ‘Climb on,’ Paul responded.   I was stunned.  She was climbing!

It took some time.  No more words were spoken, but just a few grunts and growls as she pulled herself up the rock face.  On top, the effect on our group was already palpable.  Anticipation, hope, possibility in the silence.   As she reached the last pull to the top, I saw her eyes meet with Paul’s eyes.   Words did not seem necessary to convey all that had transpired between the two of them and by extension to our motley gathering.   As she stepped up, There was an eruption of joy, grief and gratitude.   Something deep and profound resonated inside of me which I could not describe, but I knew that my life would be in pursuit of moments such as this.  A defining moment beyond words to describe.  Kairos.