My friend Benno told me that Karen, his wife, has a saying: “It doesn’t get easier—you get stronger.”
Which brings me to the Billy Goat Trail. I am climbing the wall here with Elliot right in front of me. When he first saw it, he said that maybe we should turn back. Then he paused, watched some people going up, and said that we should try it.
“Okay, you go first and stay right in front of me. Stay very close to me, and we can do this together.”
This is the advice Benno gave me: “Have the kid go up first and stay right behind him. You can help him climb if you need to.” This is how he got his daughter Clare to the top safely when she was about 3. Knowing I’m right behind him gives Elly the confidence to keep going—that and his kid’s desire to do difficult things, I suppose.
The entire way up, I try not to look at the river moving fast in back of me. In back of me and a couple of hundred feet below me. In back of me, a couple of hundred feel below me, and liberally sprinkled with large and pointy rocks.
At the top, Elly tells me it’s not so scary to climb the wall, but for me it’s about the scariest thing I’ve ever done.
Benno clearly gets the fact that a kid should know, not believe, that his dad is there to catch him, even if the dad in question has no earthly idea how the momentum of the fall will not send them both over the edge and into the rapids. But he and Karen understand how to do that now. They stayed on their feet when Clare fell. Not off the path—they could keep her safe from that—but when she succumbed to leukemia, something they couldn’t control.
I think they do it by knowing they can make it to the next day, even when their pain is so terrible that they don’t believe they will.
This can’t get easier, but they keep getting stronger.