When I was seven, I looked a little bit like a blond version of Mowgli from the ‘Jungle Book.’ Scrawny frame, all arms and legs, and a straight bob that swung from side to side as I walked.
And it suited me, because true to having grown up in the African bush, I was a little wild. I loved lizards and spiders and grasshoppers and frogs. At boarding school, I spent my time making mud pies, skidding across the shower room floor, and making forts out of bamboo shoots. Every year, at the first smell of rain that marked the end of the dry season, I was one of the first to dash out to the football pitches, arms raised in expectancy, dancing in celebration as the deluge that came shortly after soaked us all to the skin.
But most of all, I loved climbing trees. One afternoon at boarding school, I was with a group of boys who were trying to outdo each other by swinging between the branches of a little grove of guava trees.
Now if you know me at all, you’ll know I’m not one to succumb to peer pressure. It’s just pure stubbornness on my part really. But on that day, I remember the feeling as they began to taunt me, saying I was too ‘chicken’ to join in. And so began a brief moment of madness. I just had to prove my worth. It felt a little like Anne of Green Gables walking across the apex of a room to prove to Gilbert Blythe that she was ‘every bit as brave as a boy.’
But as with poor Anne, who soon came down from the roof with a bump, pride came before a fall. Guava trees have bark that peels off all too easily. As I jumped from the first branch and clung to the next, I came right off it, with the piece of bark in my hand. Before I knew it, I was lying on the ground, feeling pain that I’d never felt.
Then followed a eight hour car drive to hospital, over roads with more pot holes than tarmac. I had been climbing since I was six months and had never once fallen until that day, but on that journey I subconsciously decided I would never climb a tree again. I had back problems for years – all stemming from the shoulder fracture I sustained that day. It wasn’t until after an X-ray in my twenties and three intense months of Chiropractic treatment that all was put to rights.
But that wasn’t the worst part – for years I missed out on what I loved best because of the fear of experiencing that awful pain again. A little of the daring and wild in me was lost that day.
Can you look back to a time in your life when a painful event opened a wound that has never quite closed? Maybe it was a conflict at home, a disappointing church experience, a shaming experience as a child, sudden bereavement, unexpected surgery, or a moment of betrayal. Perhaps as a result you have subconsciously withdrawn from people, put up walls around your heart, or stopped doing the things that used to give you life and joy.
Maybe now’s the time for a heart x-ray. Ask yourself what’s holding you back from going there again. Get whatever treatment you need. Face the fear, let go of the hurt, resolve the disagreement, step out of the shadow of shame, or open up your heart. Don’t let the fear of what might be stop you from experiencing what could be. Find your inner Mowgli again. Start dreaming, start climbing, start learning, start talking again. There are plenty of trees left to climb, and this time there may not be a crowd of boys teasing you.