The ripple effect of strange little moments years ago continues.
Case in point. Way back in 1994, I spent a lot of time in New York City. Since I’ve always been a big theater fan, I did my best to see as many shows as possible, knowing there would come a day when I’d be a long way from Times Square. When a friend told me about an off-Broadway show called Blown Sideways through Life.
I got a ticket and went. The little show blew me away.
It was written and performed by a woman named Claudia Shear. It chronicled her experiences in the American workforce — 64 jobs in all, including a waitress, a nude model, a proofreader, a whorehouse receptionist, a pastry chef, an Italian translator and more.
There were parts of the show that made me laugh so hard my side hurt. There were other parts that made me cry, but the theme of the show already resonated with me back then — everybody has a story. To find her own story and get her life together, the writer and performer ended up doing an Outward Bound adventure.
Outward Bound is a non-profit organization that offers experience-based outdoor programs for youth and adults. According to their website, “Outward Bound courses change lives and give you the tools to see further, climb higher and know your way.”
In the one-woman show, I remember Shear telling of rock climbing, sailing and the hard-core trekking element of her course. Throughout her adventure, she had various Great Realizations about life that led her to a confidence she had never known before. With that newfound self-assurance, she picked herself up from her own bootstraps and began to realize, enjoy and appreciate the bounty of her world, her responsibility to herself and her responsibility to others. The rugged outdoor experience stretched her further than she had ever been stretched and was positively life changing.
Her words have stayed with me through the years. I’ve found myself thinking of little pieces of the show at the oddest times.
In the last several years, I’ve thought of her words on just how well the Outward Bound instructors were trained, how the group had to stay together and just how much was required to complete the adventure. For three summers, I’ve thought about the possibility of sending our 14-year-old daughter for her own Outward Bound experience. For some reason, I’ve thought this program might help her put things in a better perspective and find her own self-confidence. Finally, this year, she went.
When she returned home last week, she did so with a new take on life. In her words, “I don’t think I’ll ever complain again.” She has had much to tell as she’s chattered away about the atrocities of the backpacking and whitewater canoeing adventure. She spent the course with two instructors and 11 other 14 and 15-year-olds (whose parents had also encouraged them to complete this course).
In the process, she literally fell off a mountain she was attempting to climb. Fortunately, there was a thorny blackberry bush seven feet down that caught her. Her crew helped her up, removed the thorns and briars, bandaged her up — and then, to her shock and horror, they were ready to set off hiking again. She was outraged. However, with no fallback plan, she had no choice but to get up and continue the trek.
She came home with as big of a takeaway as Shear.
“I learned that I can fall off a mountain, climb back up on the trail, pick the briars off, keep going — and live to tell the tale,” she said. To quote a friend, our daughter has categorized her Great Adventure as “the best bad experience I could have ever had.”
To the many people who made that happen — from my late great friend Bob Roach who recommended the off-Broadway show all those years ago, to Claudia Shear who wrote and performed it, to the fine folks at Outward Bound and the friends who sent prayers and positive thoughts, I extend my heartfelt gratitude.