As kids, every once in while my brother and I would come across a tall picket fence. The kind of fence that blocked us from the place we’d really want to go next. It’s the kind of fence our parents would usually tell us not to climb, because we’d get hurt. Between my brother and I, one of us would listen to them. Usually it was not my brother.
He’d run ahead, hoist himself over while I tried to yell some sense into him. I was the oldest. Sensible. Cautious.
Then I’d find a fence that was for me. There would be a gap in the boards or a hole low in the pickets. Little windows of hope where my child-size foot could fit just right. I’d get that excited feeling in my belly that felt something like brave. It was the place in the wood that made me know it was the fence for me.
I’d start climbing, foot pressed hard against the grain and find some traction. I had to keep my steps firm but my body light to make it up. I’d scale the side because something on the other side felt worth the getting in trouble part.
Then I’d get to the top. I could see the other side, my small fingers gripping and brown eyes peeking over the edge. I could see below the side I’d just climbed up. I’d look over at what was on the other side, a play yard or a trail. I’d see the something I’d lost like a ball thrown over the fence or something waiting to be found. I’d hang there hovering over those pickets feeling my inner thighs start to burn. I’d look at the drop below and realize I couldn’t scale down the way I had gotten up. To get to the other end, I just had to swing my leg and leap over in one swoop so I could get a push off the fence. Or I could let myself drop back to the bottom where I started. My scrawny arms weren’t strong enough to hold me long. It got painful the longer I waited to decide.
This morning, I woke up sitting at the top of the fence. I’ve been working on a writing project for many months. I’ve come to the place where I’ve scaled one side and made it to that jumping off point. I know getting down to the finish may not come gracefully. I’m at the swoop down part, and it’s paralyzing.
At a conference recently, a woman spoke about facing a career shifting decision in her life. There happened to be a picket fence behind her as she shared her story. I saw her pain in the indecision. I remembered the pain of sitting on that picket fence and having to decide what side I’d choose to end up on.
Sometimes, sensible and safe makes sense, and sometimes it doesn’t. What I learned growing up is this: sitting on the fence for a long time hurts far worse than falling off. Not deciding, and staying tethered to fear, that hurts the most.
As a kid, 80% of the time, I’d swing that leg over and land in a happy, scraped up heap. Happy I tried. Happy I made it over no matter what the landing looked like. Happy that the little voice in me knew I could, and I listened to her.
What’s your fence today? What’s worth crossing? What’s worth falling for? What fences that aren’t for you can you walk past with a sensible smile?