The first time I let my daughter walk alone to Grand Avenue in St. Paul, I had to swallow my fears. Of course, I told her exactly how far she could go and how long she could be gone. I made a leap of faith that she'd follow instructions and return home safely. Having passed the test, she soon asked for freedom to go farther.
Parents set limits not only to keep their children safe, but also to give them something to push up against, a psychologist friend once told me. A child needs to test limits, to stretch toward independence. Meanwhile, an adult's challenge is to figure out when and how far to shift the boundary, balancing safety and risk so that the child can continue to learn.
Adults set limits for themselves too. And, to continue learning, we must push up against our limits. In this issue Jon Kramer offers a fine example of pushing in his story "Minnesota Ice." Kramer challenges himself to climb walls of ice. Why does he do it? Fear. A long-time fear of heights motivates him, he says. Once immobilized by it, he battled back by learning to climb.
Every ice climb requires Kramer to control emotion and apply reason and technical skill. By climbing, he frees himself from the constraints of fear. Thus he satisfies a natural human impulse for freedom.
Facing fear is a critical factor in surviving any life-threatening situation. Also in this issue, "Lost in the Woods" offers survival strategies for backcountry travelers. Prevention begins with a healthy dose of fear-enough to motivate the traveler to always carry the basic supplies essential for survival in the wild. Author Cary Griffith enumerates rules to follow to stay on track or to get found. Just knowing the rules and feeling prepared may give travelers an edge against debilitating fear if they do get lost.
Fear pops up often in a new book called Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. An in-depth look at stories of survival in dire circumstances, it scrutinizes survivors' attitudes and behaviors and boils them down to common strategies. First, survivors recognize they are in trouble. Then they channel their fear, which often manifests itself as anger, into action-organizing thoughts, analyzing the situation, and planning what to do. Like Kramer on ice, survivors typically act both boldly and cautiously, taking one step at a time and celebrating each small success. After a while, they may perform their life-saving actions with the focus and efficiency of athletes at the top of their game. Amazingly, they may also find moments to focus on the beauty of their surroundings.
Survivors fear the suffering their death would cause loved ones, and this too motivates them to be rescued. As a young man, my husband nearly drowned. He found himself stranded when the ocean tide rolled in and isolated his rocky perch from the mainland cliff. Though he crouched and clung to the craggy surface, an enormous wave swept him away. As he tumbled in the current, he thought of his parents, distraught at the news of his drowning. More than the possibility of dying, the likelihood of their suffering horrified him. He held his breath, and finally the ocean tossed him-curled up like a snail-back onto the rock.
At some point in their ordeal, survivors let go of their fear of dying and accept the possibility. Yet they fight to live and believe they will.
Like people who seek and meet challenges, survivors reach a deeper understanding of who they are and how they work.
To face fear and keep going requires a leap of faith. On the ice wall, faith does not necessarily propel the climber to the top. Rather, faith moves the cold traveler, step by step, toward a safe return home.
Kathleen Weflen, editor