Sunday, 20 May 2012
The Paradox of Bravery
Yesterday I did something I have wanted to do for a long time: I went to tree-top adventure "Go-Ape". In Delamere Forest. This involves climbing 12 metres up a tree on a rope ladder and then crossing various bridges made of decidedly wobbly bits of rope and wood. My favourite crossing was the "stirrups", where you place one foot at a time in little rope loops: This was rated "extreme" and not everyone in my group was brave enough to try it.
I have always been a dare devil. As a child, my favourite things were gymnastics, trampolining and climbing trees. I still love roller and ice skating and at a recent children's party I might well have been the most confident mum on the ice.
I can't see well enough to see people's expressions but I expect they were looking at me with a mixture of alarm and astonishment. How can someone who uses a white cane to walk to school possibly manage to launch herself off a platform into a cargo net or go zooming round an ice-rink?
Conventional wisdom says that you need bravery to tackle adrenaline fuelled activities like "Go Ape". And we have all heard the myth that the blind who get on with life show courage in abundance. So does that mean I am doubly brave?
Actually it doesn't. I find activities like tree-top climbing and ice-skating easy precisely because I don't use my sight to do them. They are about balance, touch and instinct. Sight just doesn't come in to it.
Thirty years ago I went to a birthday party at Lightwater Valley. The main attraction at this theme park was the "death slide": a sheer and highly polished wooden drop which you had to launch yourself off. All my sighted friends were terrified of it and not many of them were brave enough to try it. But I happily flung myself off the edge over and over again. One friend was so cross with my annoyingly smug exuberance that she pointed out that it was easy for me because I couldn't see how high up we were. I remember that she got into a LOT of trouble for saying that. My eyes were a taboo subject back then and no one was allowed to mention them.
But it turns out that my friend was right. I am not scared of heights because I have absolutely no idea how high I am. As long as I have something to hold on to I really don't mind where I am. I love the sensation of falling, swinging or bouncing precisely because this is something I can do as well as -
If not better - than my sighted peers. It gives me a sense of power, confidence and liberation which I don't often experience in the sighted world.