I stand in the mulch, surrounded by the playground that was the backdrop of my childhood. I remember running through the grass and sliding down the slides, trying to keep my dress clean at the same time. I can almost hear the youthful screams of recess. As I drift deep into nostalgia, the breeze overwhelms my senses with the smell of freshly mown grass and newly spread pine needles. If I close my eyes, I can almost envision games of tag, kickball, and red rover spread across the field. But joyful memory is halted when, all at once, an old fear creeps into my psyche.
In the middle of the mulch stands an old enemy. When I was in elementary school, I was terrified to climb to the top of the jungle gym at recess. As I look across the playground, it all comes back to me. “Chicken!” my friends would yell down, feet dangling over the very top bars. I’d stay put on the bottom rung, feet firmly planted on the mulch. I feel my muscles tense at the memory. I can see it all replaying in my mind. Finally, with feigned courage I walk toward my childhood foe, mulch crunching under my feet.
Step. After. Slow. Steady. Step.
Until finally, the metal web of girlhood and I stand face to face again. I prepare myself for a showdown. Finally, I may avenge myself. Why should the sight of this simple playground equipment fill me with such anxiety? It’s been years!
But as I look, I notice a shift in perspective. Now, standing head and shoulders over my eight-year-old self, I can see right over the once insurmountable peak. I exhale. The all-consuming fear is now irrelevant. I can see the top now, and it’s not quite as scary as I imagined.
I’ve grown up.
As I stand in the fall breeze, my mind drifts with the leaves from past to present. I can’t help but wonder how many of my anxieties—the be-all-end-all stressors of my life—will one day be just like the jungle gym. What peaks am I afraid to climb for fear of falling? How much of life now will all make sense once I’ve had time to gain a new perspective?
Perhaps I’ve still got growing up to do. And one day, from a perspective head and shoulders above where I am now, I’ll see over the top.
The fear I felt then was real. And as I bring my mind back to reality, I must acknowledge that the fears I feel now are real. Yet neither is too big to handle. Perspective, I remind myself, comes with time. One day, things that feel out of my control now can and will make sense.
With a deep breath, I walk toward the gate of the playground. “I’m still growing,” I remind myself. The memories fade back to the recesses of memory as I close the gate behind me. The wind whips through the trees, and I’m suddenly brought back to reality. Real life. Adulthood. Suddenly, I feel overwhelmed. But in the midst of the overwhelm, I again remind myself, “I’m still growing.”
Thank God, I’m still growing.