I remember it was a really bright, crisp day. A few clouds, a bright sun, and cool mountain air. The persistent, permanent breeze coming from the mountains and down across the Great Plains wasn’t too strong so we were in short sleeves. It was our typical Spring Saturday, climbing the granite formations of Veedauwoo (pronounced vee-da-voo) about 15 miles from the campus of the University of Wyoming.
Veedauwoo is one of my places. A place that has seen all the stages of my life. A place that keeps part of me so long after I’ve moved away. I’ve been happy there, I’ve been bereft there. I’ve had beer and bonfires there with all my friends, and sat on a rock through the night, alone except for the squirrels and birds. I camped near there for the first time when I was about eleven. And when my sons were young and climbing the rocks for the first time I told them, “slow and steady, always watch where you put your feet, and never, ever, climb alone.”
But on that day, I was with a few friends. We’d been climbing for a few hours and were standing near the top, on an east-facing ledge. One of my friends had shuffled up to the very lip, a one hundred foot drop under the toes of his climbing boots. We heard him mumble, “I could do it.”
It wasn’t alarming. He was smiling, and seemed no more troubled than any other 21 year-old college student. Shortly after that we packed up the car to head back to Laramie to do our typical Saturday Night thing. But “I could do it” has stuck with me.
He was speaking into the unknown. He was channeling the fear that we all felt. We were a year from graduating and none of us knew what was going to happen. We didn’t know where we were going. Hell, we couldn’t even guarantee that if we did everything right that everything would be ok. Adults know this to be true, but the acquisition of that knowledge is cruel and terrifying. We were facing adulthood. Not the half-measure adulthood of our earliest twenties, but adulthood. When you feel the wind at your back because there’s no one back there pushing you.
We moved fast, we thought fast. We studied, we partied, we worked. Mostly because we were young, and because we could. But also because contemplation was really scary. I was getting an arts degree, and She an Accounting degree. Eventually, among my closest friends were three arts degrees, a couple accounting degrees, two communications degrees, an exercise physiology degree, a couple chemical engineering degrees, and a degree in chemistry. And every single one of us had no clue where we’d end up. And when we slowed down enough to talk about it, we all felt the same. Hopeful but anxious. Excited and clueless. We could all describe what we imagined, what we hoped for. But they were cardboard cutouts of dreams, because we lacked the wisdom to add dimension. But still, always, hopeful and excited.
My sons are in college now. I watch anxiously, wondering what it is they contemplate when they slow down enough to do so. Do they fear the unknown? Do they look over the edge and feel weak-kneed at the sight of unyielding vastness? Because what I hope is that they step up to the ledge, look out at the world and say “I could do it.”
“I could do it”. It means, “I am unafraid of the unknown. I can smile at a 100 foot drop just an inch away because I can choose to go no further. I can stand unafraid at the edge because I choose to, because I can.”
It means, “My life, my choices. The unknown be damned.”