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Essay

The Leap

By February 27, 2013 No Comments
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Last time, I talked here about growing up in the Army chapel system, so I hope you’ll indulge a second blog in a row about “my military childhood.” But I’ve been going to a lot of meetings lately where hard choices are being discussed, so I’ve been thinking a good deal about how we articulate the principles we hold and about how we find the courage to carry them out.  And what sometimes stops us too.

Though I was slight and small, I was quite a fearless little kid.  When we moved to Korea in the early 1970s, I was six, my brother was four, and my sister was but eight months old.  Army housing is assigned by rank and number of children, so our quarters had three bedrooms in one half of a duplex.  Given our ages, my parents decided that we kids would have a sleeping room and a playroom–and proceeded to have a bunk bed custom-made for my brother and me.  To this day, it remains the tallest bunk bed I have ever seen.  It dominated the already small room, a bulwark against all comers and a perfect fort.  Against the other wall of the bedroom, perpendicular to the bunk bed monstrosity, was my sister’s crib.  So, naturally, my brother and I thought it would be great fun to do some precise parachuting from the top of the bunk bed and to launch ourselves into the crib.  Looking back, I’m always amazed a) that we always landed in the crib and not in a heap on the ground with a broken limb or worse, b) that the crib never broke, and c) that our mother always discovered us.  Perhaps it was the high-pitched shrieking of “Geronimo” coming from the bedroom that tipped her off.

With a childhood such as that, it will not astonish you to learn that I was probably 10 or so before I realized that I was technically a “civilian.” So obviously I loved the celebration every year on Armed Forces Day.  Since the 1950s, Armed Forces Day has been celebrated on bases around the world, often by opening training facilities to family members and sometimes the general public too. 

No surprise, then: that first year in Korea, I decided I wanted to jump out of the training tower.  (If you need a visual, think of a zipline that goes from the tower down, so you can practice your landing skills, or the picture below shows what the opening of the tower looks like). My mother was somewhat dubious, given that the narrow tower reached about 75 feet into the sky (at least, that’s how tall my father remembered it when I asked him about this recently.  I just remember its seemed to stretch on and on).  It also required that the jumper climb to the top alone—no parent, no nothing (ah, the ‘70s.  Could we get away with such today?) 

But despite her protestations, I was determined.  And so, I began the long climb up.  The tower was open on the sides, so you could feel the breeze as you got farther and farther away from the ground.  The metal steps were closer to a ladder than a real staircase—and it turns out, there were a lot of them.

Midway up, I began to reconsider.  I had already climbed a long way, and it seemed like there were still hundreds of steps in front of me.  And it was way higher than I had imagined.

Still, looking down, I realized how very scary it would be to climb backwards all the way back to the ground.  And I knew I couldn’t stay paralyzed in the middle of the tower.

I kept climbing.

When I got to the top, the men got me in my harness and told me that, because I was so little, I would have to take a running start.  Taking off, I whipped down that line so fast that I’m not even sure I was breathing. 

Actually, the jump was the least frightening part of the whole experience because, unlike my solo climb to the top, I knew my father was at the end of the line, ready to catch me as I landed.  In that, I had complete confidence.   And he did not disappoint.

It’s funny, though: when we talked about this recently, he told me he hadn’t been too sure, given my velocity, if he would indeed be able to catch me.  It’s a good thing God is a little stronger, no matter what we throw at him.

It’s easy to decide to never climb the daunting towers of our lives.

It’s easy to get paralyzed in the middle or think somehow we can go back to where we were before.

It’s easy to get weary of the climb.

But thankfully, we never climb alone.

May we help each other face the arduous climb that lies before each of us, urging each other on to love and good works and reminding ourselves of this truth: that our God goes before us, ready to catch us when we take the leap.

Jennifer L. Holberg

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). I also do various administrative things across campus. As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids. I count myself rich in friends and family. I enjoy kayaking and hiking. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I have a bumper sticker on my car that says: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” Which is true.

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