Vicki McKenna

You often hear people say, “You have to face your fears.”

Why do I have to face them?

I have a lot of fears. The older I get, the more things I’m afraid of. It’s not fun, but I have come to accept the fact that I probably will not be doing much flying, climbing mountains or jumping off cliffs. My kids do all these things. They have no fear. I say a prayer, wish them good luck, then pour a glass of wine and hope for the best.

The other night, my family watched a movie called “Free Solo.” It’s a documentary about a 33-year-old man who had the hairbrained idea to scale El Capitan — the 3,000-foot-tall granite rock formation in Yosemite — with nothing but his hands and feet. Rock climbers refer to this method of climbing without ropes or any safety equipment as “free soloing.” Why would you do that?!

The opening footage is enough to send you spinning into a full-blown vertigo attack. I had to look away. It was unbearable to watch but I was interested in the story, so I moved to another room and basically listened to the movie.

Alex, the documentary’s main subject, who obviously has something wrong with his brain (and I’m not being mean ... he actually had an MRI done that revealed the part of his brain that registers fear is abnormally small), launched into a speech about how being warm and cozy in life accomplishes nothing. That you have to push yourself to do death-defying things, so you know you’re alive. It’s this line of reasoning that motivated him to take on this extremely dangerous, and in my opinion, dumb, feat.

I don’t know about you, but I like warm and cozy! In fact, I love it! I strive to be warm and cozy. Just because this guy has what could be interpreted as a death wish, doesn’t mean the rest of us are pathetic do-nothings.

We each have our own paths, our own definitions of accomplishment. I think I have done a good job in life. I feel I’ve accomplished some important things, raising a family being one of them. Just because I prefer my cozy couch and a crackling fire, surrounded by my loved ones, over some windy, dangerous precipice, clinging to rocks with a finger and a toe, doesn’t mean I’m a failure. If I died today, I’d die happy and fulfilled.

I would like to be 100 years old, however, and that’s why I don’t take stupid risks like Alex. I don’t need to defy death every second to feel worthy and alive. Furthermore, let’s think about what this guy did to his poor mother and girlfriend. Imagine how they felt. How selfish is it to put them through such a gut-wrenching experience?

The photographers in the documentary were mounted into the wall of El Capitan in various locations so they could film every angle of the treacherous climb. They were secured with plenty of safety equipment, yet were still nervous. Not about being fastened to a sheer rock face, 3,000 feet up, but about how horrifying it’d be if Alex fell to his death on camera. As I listened, I thought, “Hey, there’s a way you can avoid that: Don’t let him do it!”

In the movie, Alex talks about his friends who also love the thrill of free-solo climbing, and oh yeah, by the way, they’re dead now. Then he began to describe in vivid detail what would happen to his body should he fall. He had actually researched it! He said his body would literally explode. Hey you idiot, there’s a way you can avoid that gruesome scenario. DON’T DO IT!

I remember the time my kids tried to make me face my triple-threat of fears — heights, elevators and falling — by pressuring me to go on the former “Tower of Terror” ride at Disney California Adventure. This ride simulated being in an elevator at the top of a 10-story hotel, then suddenly free-falling to the bottom. Then you’re hoisted back up to the top again, and you free-fall again. You get to experience this about eight times.

I was the last one to exit the ride. White as a sheet, sweating, and with my legs shaking, I made my way off the ride and then sat down on the floor in a corner, a crumpled mass of jangled nerves. I was emotionally spent, exhausted and traumatized. Pretty sure I was weeping. My kids didn’t care. They left me there on the floor and merrily headed to the gift shop.

So much for facing my fears. Never again. I’ll take warm and cozy and safe and alive over fear any day. Life is dangerous enough; people die every day just doing normal stuff. Why tempt fate?

Dramatic music from the other room signaled the end of the “Free Solo” movie. Alex had triumphed over El Capitan! My kids cheered. Then my son Ryan yelled to me as I sat at the computer, watching kitten videos on YouTube.

“Wow, Mom, you should have watched this. It would have made you face your fears!”

“Nope!” I said, sipping my wine and pulling my fleece blanket around me a little tighter. I’m happy over here, all warm and cozy ...

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