At the beginning of the Fall 2011 Intern Term, the interns, Nichole, and I spent a day at UCF’s Challenge Course. We played team-building games, practiced trust falls, and tackled low and high element challenges. That day, I saw interactions that made my little community-building Intern Program Director heart sing. I saw a group of six people, collectively from four different continents, who had met each other just weeks before, form into a cohesive, supportive unit and respond to one another with patience, grace, and love. They have carried that with them through their entire term. With a few major moves and the American Giving Awards, they have had more than enough challenges to overcome as a group. And I am proud to have watched these extraordinary people learn and grow in the midst of those challenges, both individually and collectively. Below, one of our Fall interns Lindsey shares her perspective of our day on the Challenge Course and the way that it has woven itself through the rest of the term.
Intern Program Director
I have always been fascinated with high places. Something about the phrase “bird’s eye view” captivates me. Maybe it’s tied to my wanderlust and the illusion of freedom that heights provide, maybe I just like the complete change in perspective of being up high. Either way, I was excited about our merry TWLOHA band of six interns and two staff members traipsing off to UCF to tackle the ropes course.
What we experienced during that trip far exceeded any expectations I could have had. I saw people struggling with basic trust falls allow themselves to be lifted over the heads of the rest of the group. I saw people whose lips were itching with the words “I can’t do it” push through until they succeeded. I saw people paralyzed with fear and blinded by tears walk across wires solely on the knowledge that they had seven other people behind them 100 percent. I saw a group of people who had only a few days earlier become too fast friends bond into a cohesive unit – a supporting, encouraging community. A family. But mostly, forty feet in the air on finger thick wires, I saw eight perspectives change. In those moments, I understood the things TWLOHA says in a completely different way. We are not alone. We are not meant to do these things on our own. Maybe in life we don’t have a safety net, but harness or no the easiest way to walk the wire is with two other sets of shoulders to lean on.
As I reflect back on these words I wrote at the very beginning of our term, I can see now that in many ways, though I didn’t know it at the time, it served as an indication of what the rest of this four-month experience would hold. Community is hard. People and relationships are hard. I don’t know if I had an accurate understanding in August of just how hard these things are, but together the six of us have tripped and stumbled through this thing called community building. There were times when it didn’t seem possible — didn’t seem worth conflicts and tears. Times when we stood on the ground, gazing up at the obstacle course forty feet in the air, wondering how we could ever come out victorious, how we could ever come out whole and unscathed. But this was because we had no idea that while we stood safely on the ground, six individuals filled with our own ideas and expectations, we were far from “whole.” Maybe we didn’t realize we could come out on the other side of it more complete than we started.
I learned something very important over these last few months. I learned something while I watched people begin to tap into an inner strength they never knew resided in them, while I watched people learn how to let themselves be loved, while I watched people make some of life’s biggest decisions and allow themselves to trust and be supported by our newborn community.
I learned that when it comes right down to it, you are the one that has to decide to step down onto that tiny wire. You are the one that has to take a deep breath, set your jaw, and trust yourself.
The decision is only yours.
No one else is going to move your foot for you, no one else is going to take that first step. And that can be terrifying. But there is a world of difference between taking the step “on your own,” and taking it “alone.” How much easier is it to step onto that wire when you see a handful of others taking their own first steps on their separate wires? How much easier is it to overcome the obstacle, to put one foot in front of the other, when you step with eyes locked on a friend’s who has just conquered it themselves? How much quieter is the sound of your own fear, when your ears are filled with the encouragement and love of the rest of your community?
Albus Dumbledore says, “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” It was our choice, standing there on the ground not so long ago as six individuals in awe of the insurmountable course in front of us. Six choices were made that day that community was worth it, that maybe we wouldn’t claim victory but that staying on the ground was uncomfortably safe. Six people chose a change in perspective, and we have gained more than we ever thought possible.
Fall 2011 Intern