I climbed the long, wobbly rope ladder hand over hand just as I was instructed. I felt confident until I looked up and saw that I still had about 20 feet to go before I reached the perch I was supposed to stand and take-off from.
I looked down and saw my friend looking up nervously at me twenty feet below. Beside her stood the tall Argentinian that we met the day before and at his side was the excited little Columbian with wavy black hair and a bushy mustache. Together they looked like they came right off the set of the Princess Bride.
In fact, nothing would have pleased me more the day we met the duo than to hear the Columbian quote, “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!”
Let’s continue to call him “Inigo” because to be honest, after 17 years I can’t remember his real name.
A couple days earlier, my friend and I noticed a circus caravan had come to our small Chilean village and was setting up a big tent in a barren soccer field. It was the talk of the town. After all, it was not often that you saw lions and elephants in Puente Alto, Chile.
Why was I in Chile, you ask? Fair question. When I was 22 years old, I decided to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Yes, I am a Mormon.
I was a sister missionary or in Spanish an “Hermana”. I did not always plan on serving a mission, but I am so glad I chose to serve the Lord in this way and loved that I was sent to Chile. It was definitely one of the influential growing experiences of my entire life. Much of who I am today stems from that year and half I lived in Chile as a missionary.
One thing we do as missionaries besides look for opportunities to serve and teach the Gospel of Christ is to look for opportunities to connect with people. That is exactly what we were doing the morning we met Inigo and the tall Argentinian. Early in our conversation, they let us know they were the trapeze artists.
I was beside myself! I couldn’t believe it! I told them that when I was a little girl one of my favorite parts of the circus was watching the trapeze artists fly effortlessly through the air. The grace and the strength of the trapeze artists amazed me and I daydreamed of doing it myself someday.
The trapeze duo puffed up a little at my comments, looked at each other knowingly then turned back to me and asked if I wanted to live out my dream. They said if I came back tomorrow they would let me try!
I immediately got in my head and the little bird on my shoulder said, “You’re a missionary, you can’t do that… missionaries don’t do that sort of thing….”
But then the bird on my other shoulder chirped in and said, “to my knowledge there is no specific rule against flying on trapezes in traveling South American circuses in our handbook of rules either and besides, tomorrow is your morning off…”
I figured, better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission on this one.
I assure you that aside from this small incident, I was a model missionary!
Now, LDS (Mormon) missionaries all have a companion that they must be with 24/7. So this was not a decision I could make alone. It took some convincing, but my “companera” finally agreed to join me the next day.
At this point, we both lived in Chile long enough that we were not at all surprised by the lack of safety precautions the morning we arrived for our trapeze debut. We did not sign any waiver and there was no safety harness, just the trapeze about 40 feet up and a net.
Inigo did give a quick lesson however, he said when you get to the perch at the very top, grab the bar and bring it as far back as possible then jump out as far as you can. He told me to use the weight of my body to get the trapeze to swing. Once I got the hang of it he told me to swing as high as I could until at the highest point my body was about parallel to the ground below.
At that point, he told me to listen for his voice. He would yell, “Uno, dos, tres – Sueltalo!” And that would be my cue to let go and keep my body straight and parallel to the ground. I was to land on my back; he promised the net would be there below to catch my fall.
This brings us back to where we began with me climbing the rope. I finally got to the perch. I grabbed the trapeze bar and pulled it back as far as I could before I jumped out in to the “wild blue yonder”. It was an incredible feeling. I felt like I was made for this! I got the trapeze high and once my body was nearly parallel with the earth I listened for his cue.
Inigo counted from below and my grip tightened with each count until I heard him yell, “Sueltalo!” Then before I could think about it, my hands obediently let go and I laid my body out as parallel and as straight as I could and watched the top of the tent get smaller and smaller as I hoped the net below would catch me.
Inigo quickly ran over to the net and told me that I was a natural! He even invited me to join his traveling circus! In a very excited voice, he explained that they would be returning to Columbia soon and then next to Venezuela. He said I would love Venezuela.
For a moment, I actually thought about just what it would be like to send my parents a letter telling them I had joined a traveling South American Circus. It was fun to imagine their reaction.
It was a couple years later that I realized what a beautiful metaphor this experience in blind trust really was. There have been times in my life since when I had to let go of something that I was holding on to for safety or security in order to gain an increased experience, to gain something more or to go somewhere new.
Sometimes I felt that same experience of the unknown as I fell from the trapeze to the net – that feeling of blind trust– hoping that the net would be there to catch me. The net caught me that day and nearly every similar experience since there has been something or someone there to catch me …so long as I had the trust to “let go”.