hay bales in a field

When was the last time someone blew your mind and challenged what you thought you were capable of?

For me, it was about this time last month.

Ever since I became part of my husband’s family four years ago, I’ve had a special relationship with my eight-year-old niece, Grace. We climb trees, go on walks and generally run around like loons when we see each other. I think I drew her a dinosaur the first time we hung out and she drew me a picture of the slinky-dog from Toy Story. We get each other.

Last month, the whole family went to a family reunion in the middle-of-nowhere, Illinois. It’s always held on a family farm that belongs to my grandfather-in-law. The fields were bare by now and all the hay was neatly baled up in tall rolls that speckled the landscape.

After climbing a couple of trees, Grace told me that she wanted to get on top of one of the hay bales. Without my help. They probably stood about 6 feet tall, and I was curious to see how she was going to manage it (and a little skeptical that it would work).

She tried a few different approaches, and then drew back to survey the battleground. Then, she just ran at it, ran up the side of it, and scrambled her way to the top. I was a little blown away.

“That was amazing, Gracie! How did you know how to do that?”

“I learned it from playing Zelda,” she shrugged.

That’s right, folks. She picked up her scaling-vertical-surfaces chops by playing a video gameand just assuming the same principles would hold true in real life. And she never really thought it might not work. How amazing is that?

Then she looked at me. “Are you coming up, too?”

“Oh, sweetie, I don’t know. I’m not quite the gymnast you are.”

“But you’re taller than me,” she pointed out.

This was true. “Well…” I looked around. We were out in back of the farmhouse and no one was around. It’s not like I was going to embarrass myself in front of anybody except Grace – and at that point I felt more embarrassed about the idea of giving up in the face of her faith than being a klutz.

So I stood back a few yards. I looked at the bale. I think it had grown in the past couple of minutes. But Grace was up on top, not looking at me with either doubt or belief – just impatience that I wasn’t already up there.

Then I gave an internal shrug, sprinted forward, and took a not-particularly-graceful flying leap at the bale. And then I found a foothold and some baling wire at the top to grab hold of, and with a bit of scrambling I was sitting next to Grace, a little stunned at myself. It was one thing when a competitive gymnast half my weight and a quarter of my age did it, but for me to get up there too was…something else.

Of course, one victory is rarely enough for an eight-year-old. After basking in our triumph for a few minutes, we slid down and proceeded to tackle a few more. I had straw in my hair, on my jacket, down the back of my pants (TMI?) and I couldn’t stop grinning.

After a while, we finished with the first bale we’d conquered together and sat next to each other watching the sun go down. I felt warm and satisfied despite the growing chill in the air – I credit the glow that comes from watching an internal limit spontaneously combust.

You guys know what I’m about and what kinds of things I write here (if not – hi! Poke around a bit!). I’m not going to turn this into a big extended metaphor about doing stuff you didn’t think you could do, because if I made it any more literal you’d probably be picking actual bits of hay out of your keyboard. But if you’re so inclined, I invite you to think about something that sounds fun or exciting, but feels too big, too hard, too much for you…and imagine a little kid waiting for you at the top, believing so strongly in your ability to join her that it’s not even a question.

What would it be like if she was right?

Photo credit: Piotr Bizior

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