I had a personal milestone last week — a different kind of {grow} experience — and it wasn’t a very good one.  The story starts with an 8-year-old boy.

Over the past year, I have been a mentor through a program called Amachi which pairs adult role models with children who have a parent in prison. My little boy is Elijah and we have become best friends. I don’t think it is appropriate to say a lot about him but as you might imagine, he has a very challenging life surrounded by stuff no child should ever have to experience.

Elijah’s life is usually contained to an inner city neighborhood and extends about as far as he can safely ride his bike. It is a world without trees, wildlife or open spaces and one of the things I learned is that he loves nature. He is absolutely transformed just by seeing a squirrel or a rabbit. So over his school fall break, it made great sense to take him camping for the first time at one of our state’s amazing parks.

Now one thing about Elijah — he’s a daredevil.  The kid is always pushing his physical limits — and mine!  So when he saw a poster of a person rock-climbing, I knew I was in trouble.  “Can we do that?” he asked.  I tried to explain that you need ropes and special equipment but it was too late — he had that unmistakable, mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

We had an amazing first day at the park with perfect fall weather and ended up at a tall waterfall. Because of our recent drought, there was a 30-foot rock wall exposed that ended at the river above. By the time I had caught up with him on the trail, Elijah had nearly scaled the perilous rock wall.  A chill went down my spine as I saw him throw his leg over the top of the ledge.  He now stood high above me grinning ear-to-ear. My heart dropped.

The rocks were black and slick from the mist of the waterfall and so steep that there was no way he could come back down safely.  Finding another way to the top would mean he would have to stay there alone while I found an alternate path.  My instinct was to go up after him. After all, I’ve spent half my life in the woods and this was familiar territory.

I made it half-way up and realized I was in trouble. For the first time in my life I faced a physical challenge and realized that I was too old and out of shape to do what I could have done a few years ago.  My vision of myself was out of sync with my actual physical capabilities. I still participate in mountain biking, skiing and other physical activities and have surely noticed changes with age, but cannot recall ever facing a point where I was telling myself, “no.”

“I don’t think I can get up there,” I yelled up to Elijah. “I’ll have to find another way to come get you.”

“You can do it,” he said, a little panic rising in his voice. “Remember who you are!”

What I heard was, You are my mentor, my father figure and the guy who can do anything in my eyes.  Don’t leave me here.

So I climbed.  And I fell.

It seemed like I fell a long time, at least long enough for me to say one prayer,”Please God, not my head.”  I had already suffered one spinal cord injury in my life and knew this fall could be catastrophic. What would happen to Elijah if I knocked myself out?

I don’t know how it is possible, but I tumbled down multiple rock ledges and did not hit my head. Every other body part – but not my head. This was a legitimate miracle.

Everything was bruised but adrenaline took over. I told Elijah to literally not move one inch until I found a path to get to him.  And for the past week I have felt like a bruised and crippled old man.

All of this has re-set my view of myself.

How did I put myself in place where a mis-aligned self image and ego endangered me, my family and Elijah?  How could I be so self-deceptive and stupid?

I need to come to terms with my age and physical realities. I hate that.

As I posted last week about my concerns with the implications of “screen saturation” and children, I had to do a gut-check to see if I was expressing a legitimate concern or if I was starting to sound like every other generation before me, lambasting “the youth of today.”  Am I crossing some invisible line here?

These experiences are all natural elements of life transitions yet that makes it no easier to internalize and accept. In an era where we are being bombarded with age-defying advertising themes, how are you dealing with your life transitions?  Have you ever faced a physical or psychological limit yet?

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