From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

That One Moment

You have to do it by yourself,

and you can’t do it alone.

Martin Rutte

My mother is a teacher, and I grew up with the struggles and challenges a teacher faces. I often asked her, “Why do you teach? How can you continue to put out the kind of energy you do?” The answer was always the same. “There is always that one child, that one moment that makes it all worthwhile.”

I’m not sure if it was heredity, my mother’s inspiration, or the heartfelt stories she would share about her students, but I, too, became a teacher. However, my classroom is quite different from hers. I do my teaching outdoors. I teach adventure-based education, physically and mentally challenging activities that involve some risk and that focus on pro-social development. Most of the work I do involves at-risk youths.

When my mother asked me why I taught, how I was able to overcome such hardships, I knew that she already had the answer. As she said, it’s that one child, that one special moment.

One of those moments happened recently. I was working with a group of female youths between the ages of 12 and 15. We were nearing the end of the second week of a four-week program. The group had progressed smoothly through the “Team” elements and was moving to a “High” element called the Wire Walk.

The Wire Walk involves climbing up a pegged tree to a wire cable, 25 feet off the ground, stepping onto the wire cable, then walking across the cable, holding on to a loosely tied rope five feet above. During the entire process, from ground to finish, the participant is attached to one end of a climbing rope for safety. The other end is controlled by a trained instructor. It is a very safe procedure.

We spent some time talking about the emotions the girls had, then I asked who was willing to try. A few girls raised their hands, and they were able to complete the Wire Walk with little difficulty. Once the other girls saw their success, a few more were ready to go.

“Who would like to go next?” I asked. A few of the girls said, “Susie’s ready.” Sensing her reluctance, I asked Susie if she was ready. She answered softly, “I suppose.”

Susie was safely tied in and standing at the foot of the tree. I took up the slack in the rope as I watched her make the long reach for the first peg. The group applauded her efforts with rally cries and cheers. Then I watched Susie’s face tighten with every step. I wanted so much for her to do the Wire Walk. I knew how good it would make her feel. But I’d seen this fear many times, and I realized she would not go much farther.

She was halfway up when she embraced the tree in a big hug—the kind of hug a small child gives a parent’s leg after being frightened. Her eyes were shut tight, her knuckles white. With her cheek pressed against the bark, all I heard was, “I can’t.”

The other girls sat in silence. I began to quietly talk to Susie, trying to get her to ease her grip enough to lower her down. I talked for what seemed a long time. Then I ran out of words and was quiet.

The silence was broken by Mary. “I will be your friend no matter what, Susie!”

My eyes filled with tears, so much so that I could barely see Susie clinging to the tree. By the time my eyes cleared, I saw that she had lifted her head to look up to the wire. The white in her knuckles had gone flush. She turned to look down at Mary and smiled. Mary smiled back. I was on the job again, taking up the slack in the rope until Susie reached the wire.

Moments like this keep me doing what I do. The young hearts that I work with continue to fill me with inspiration and courage. I truly believe their lives are filled with more choices of risk and danger than I ever had. Somehow they go on. Somehow they get to the wire.

As for Susie, she made it all the way across that wire. When she returned to the ground, the first hug she looked for was from Mary.

We all cheered.

Chris Cavert

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