I think she's 11 years old. We'll call her "M". The first time I talked her through a small drop on silks, she listened well and followed my instructions exactly. As she stepped off the mat, I noticed she had tears in her eyes. I immediately asked if she'd hurt herself. She shook her head. I said, "You did great! What's wrong?" She sat down on the ring curb and sobbed, "I'm... I'm scared of heights." Oh, my. Okay. "Well, in that case", I told her, "You were AMAZING!" She did not stop crying. I told her she didn't have to do anything she didn't want to do. I mean, we want to push kids, but not traumatize them. She gazed at the floor and sniffed, "No. I want to."
She continued to work on silks, often tearfully, but she kept going up. A few days later, I was working with another student when I heard the coach next to us say in a familiar tone, "Okay, you're all set! One, two, three, go!" Long pause... then, "You're good. Ready, drop!" I looked over. It was M. She was up about 15 feet, all wrapped for a drop, and clinging to the fabric. Her face was frozen. She was frozen, Her breath was shallow. She was having a panic attack. I called her name and said, "Hey, okay, listen to me. You can let go. You're all good." Her eyes flitted to me and she choked out two words, "You promise?"
"Yes! I promise!"
She did the drop. She was fine. She was teary all over again as she went to sit down.
... My heart.
I watched this kid do this over and over during her week at circus camp. Over and over she went up the silk, past where she was comfortable. Over and over again she trusted us when we said she would be okay. Over and over she panicked, and let go.
And I kept thinking... life is just exactly f**king like that. You have to make yourself do stuff you're terrified of every day. You have to keep asking the people around you to reassure you you're not going to mess up or die, and it's never comfortable and it's NOT okay. Things are not okay. But if you keep going and you do it enough times, you will eventually realize that you CAN. And then you try a bigger thing. And it never ends, but eventually you might start to look forward to doing more life in the future.
For a kid to realize that truth at 11 years old... I mean, for a kid to understand how to make themselves stare down their big fears until they're not afraid anymore... I feel like that's a remarkable thing to be able to do at any age. I think that kid M is about to crush it. I don't even know what she wants to do with her life, but hear me now: She. Will. Slay.
And that, folks, is why I believe in circus. It's also why my love for teaching has grown over the years. This particular skill of facing down your fears -- physically, repeatedly, successfully -- is one of the most sacred practices we hold space for as circus educators.
I also get the benefit of being heart-shatteringly proud and 1000% lifted up by these kids. So, win-win.
Go get it, kiddos.