School trips. We all go on them. What trip do you remember the most? Where did you go? Who was with you? How did you get there? Have you ever been back?
The funny thing is, I didn’t really go on school trips until becoming an adult.
Oh, I went on field trips to museums. That’s about the only thing I remember. And not to criticize the educational value of these excursions, but museums seemed very mundane compared to the places some of my classmates were able to experience: the week-long trip to the great outdoors in the fifth grade. The eighth grade adventure in Washington, D.C. Yes, even senior prom aboard a boat in the San Francisco Bay.
It’s not that I didn’t want to go on these trips. In fifth grade I was on so many medications that had to be taken every six hours around the clock that I feared what my friends might think at the sight of it. By eighth grade, I was adamant: no one must know of the disease that was slowly shutting down my organs. And by senior year, every other day was consumed by a four-hour after-school trip of its own: my regular dialysis treatments at Stanford Hospital. Non-dialysis days were dominated by complete exhaustion after a full day at school.
There is no doubt that I could have gone on school trips, had I really wanted to and hadn't cared so much about what others thought. When I have a will, I tend to make a way. But I just didn’t have the desire to be “that girl” on an excursion, the one who had to have special accommodations or needed to sit down and rest a little more often than everyone else.
Years later, when I became a teacher, myriad opportunities for school trips presented themselves. This time around, people still didn’t know of my chronic illness, but as a post-transplant adult, I felt freedom to take such trips – and I knew that should students or fellow teachers observe me taking medication, I would turn it into a proud lesson in the value of being “that girl.”
The first trip I took was to the great outdoors – an overnighter in the Muir Woods, just north of San Francisco. I bunked with a group of seventh grade girls, officially as their chaperone and unofficially as their confidante during late-night conversations. I experienced all that I had missed out on 15 years earlier – the rustic accommodations, the morning hikes, the afternoon nature lessons, the cafeteria-style food. At some point in the trip, I realized that I wasn’t living vicariously through anyone, although my students were the reason we were on this adventure. I was living this too.
And so, when we reached an obstacle course with an 80-foot ledge up one of the amazing redwood trees, I knew that my days of vicarious living were about to be truly incinerated forever. Unsure that I would even be able to climb the tree due to muscle wasting in my arms and legs (another side effect of having cystinosis), I surprised even myself when I made it to the ledge in record time. With my kids cheering me on – “Jump, jump, jump; you can do it!” – I walked to the edge with shaky legs and prepared to make my “Lion’s Leap.” I looked down at the smiling faces below me, though I soon heard only the loud clanging of my knees inside my head.
I turned my face upward and looked at the magnificence that was all around me. Redwood trees shot into the air as far as the eye could see. I knew that somewhere up there, just as my kids were doing from beneath me, God was smiling down at me from above. I had made it.
And with that, too frightened to leap and grab hold of the swinging bar that was about six feet out from the edge of the blank, I instead fell backwards and let the harness and ropes catch me. On this trip, I was content to simply have the new experience of making the climb. I knew that next time I would jump.