When I was 15 years old my grandmother Barbaralee passed away after a particularly grueling battle with cancer. Because we had always been so close, it left a painful hole in my life. For as long as I could remember she had cheered me on in sports, in school and in life. Towards the end of her struggle she surprised everyone when she found the strength to attend one of my Jr. High wrestling matches. To this day I consider one of my great accomplishments winning that wrestling match and hopefully distracting her from her pain for just a brief moment as she celebrated with me.
My dad spoke at Grandma’s funeral and shared the analogy of the orange. I remember him asking the simple question, “What do you get when you squeeze an orange?” The answer is obvious – orange juice. He then asked an even simpler question, “Why?” The answer is profound – because that is what is inside. The same can be asked of each of us; when we are metaphorically “squeezed”, what comes out? Is it patience, acceptance, kindness or love? Is it anger, frustration, self-pity and despair?
Recently, Cascade Academy students had the opportunity to be “squeezed” as they headed to Southern Utah on a four-day camping trip. For some of the girls it was a refreshing return to the uncluttered wilderness; for others it was their first experience camping, sleeping in a tent and embracing nature on a very personal level. For all of the girls it was a chance to discover what they have “inside”.
Each day Cascade students faced a “challenge activity” that was engineered to push them out of their comfort zone. One day, the girls had the opportunity to repel down a 40-foot cliff. After putting on a harness and a helmet, walking towards the cliff’s edge and attaching herself to the rope that was securely anchored to the cliff, one girl decided that she was done and could not move any further down the rock face. Filled with embarrassment and shame for not being able to complete the task, “like the other girls” this student became overwhelmed by anxiety and wanted to run away. Still attached to the rope she had a powerful recognition of how “comparison is the thief of joy”. With tears and determination in her eyes she set a personal goal to reach a point on the cliff’s edge about five feet behind her and load the rope with her full body weight. With support and encouragement from all of her peers she made it to the cliff’s edge and accomplished a true growth zone experience. When this impressive young lady was “squeezed” she discovered a tremendous amount of fear, anxiety and avoidance “inside”. Through this experience she realized that she a courageous, powerful individual who can do scary things.
Each one of our students was challenged to experience the growth zone in their own way. As a result, they returned from this trip stronger, more courageous and more committed to healthy, happy relationships.
As my dad concluded his remarks at Grandma’s funeral, he talked about what made her such an exemplary individual. She had not had an easy life. Abuse, betrayal, pain and sadness were unfortunate, reoccurring life themes. By approaching these difficult situations with courage and joy, she built a wealth of character and strength. She lived great, and she died great. When she was “squeezed”, I was the fortunate benefactor of the beauty and grace she possessed inside.