Fear of Flying

This morning, Wyatt told us that human beings come into the world with just two fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. The rest we learn along the way.

This afternoon, my mother has decided to face her fears, beginning with the beginning. It’s a noble pursuit, for sure, but as we walk to the zipline tower in Miraval’s desert challenge course, I can’t decide if she’s propelled by courage or peer pressure. Her smile is a little shaky as we introduce ourselves to the other 6 women who will take the plunge with us less than an hour from now. Talking and laughing with the group, she seems to relax for a bit, but by the time our guide Connor is showing us how to fasten our harnesses, she’s back to looking terrified.

Meanwhile, I’m totally cool. Although its true I acquired a moderate fear of heights after bungee jumping in New Zealand several years ago, I’m careful not to mention this fact or to show any signs of uncertainty. I’m the one who got us into this.

It occurs to me that my mom has already remembered my bungee-jumping experience when she volunteers us to be the second of the 4 couples to jump. Rather than risk watching another jumper have a panic attack, she opts to go after the self-proclaimed thrill-seekers from San Francisco, but before the women from Georgia and Alabama who are as terrified as she is. Most importantly, she doesn’t want to be behind Eileen, who tells us she fell victim to the Quantum Leap challenge yesterday and had to climb back down the 25 foot pole in tears.

With our jump order set, our guide snaps himself “on belay” and skims quickly up the 45 foot pole. It looks deceptively easy. Watching the risk-takers make equally fast time, I add insecurity to my growing anxiety. I’ve been known to get a little freaky on a 10 foot ladder, but today that will be the easy part.

In just minutes, its my turn. I climb the ladder quickly and then hoist myself onto the pole using the first of many 4 inch steel rods, which are spaced about 3 feet apart all the way up the 45 foot pole. “Hand, foot, hand, foot”, I tell myself. “Don’t look down.” I climb quickly despite a growing fear with each step that my running shoes will slide off the rod. When I’m finally I’m up, I say to team risk-taker, “Wow, that was scarier than I thought it would be!” For the first time, I’m seriously worried for my mom.

My worry is short lived. Within minutes, my mother is up the pole and standing next to me on the podium. No muss, no fuss, no drama whatsoever. I’m shocked. Although she assures me she was trembling with each step, I’m not sure I believe her.

For the next 10 minutes or so, we congratulate ourselves as each woman joins us on the podium. When Eileen makes it, we cheer loudly and take pictures and promise to meet up in the bar later for prickly pear margaritas. We regret not bringing tequila with us. When all 8 of us are up, our guide’s new instructions are a grim reminder that we must now get down, and that the 1,000 foot zipline is our only escape.

A new, deeper anxiety sets in. After some brief instructions, team risk-taker is snapped to the zipline and planning their 3-count. Naturally, “one-two-three-and-then-go” is the winner. (Isn’t it always? ) Standing in position on the edge of the platform, Cindy declares on the count of one, “I’m sorry, I just don’t think I can do this. I’m really, really sorry” she tells her friend. ” Mom’s eyes are like saucers.

Then suddenly over my right shoulder I hear my mom say “We’ll go.” Not only am I shocked, but I instantly start to panic. I know why she’s doing this. Standing on that bridge in New Zealand all those years ago, I remember finally finding the strength to fling myself of the platform, knowing it was the only escape for the feeling of sheer terror that had consumed me.  Here in the Sonoran desert, my mother is doing the same thing. Before I know what to make of it, we’re both snapped onto the zipline and my mother is counting. “Holy shit,” I say on the count of one. As I release the words, I see a change wash over my mother’s face. In just those tiny fragments of seconds between the one and the two, I see the terror that had been pushing her forward more quickly than either of us could believe instantly fade away. All that remains is confident, cool, determination. I may have gotten us into this, but she’s getting us out.

And that was that. On “go”, we both step off the platform. Unlike bungee jumping, on the zipline the feeling of falling quickly turns into a smooth, easy glide. We are flying. Holding onto my harness I look ahead and see my mom with her arms spread open wide, a huge smile on her face. I follow her lead, and my arms spread wide as we fly across the desert sky at 35 mph.


All in.

Me directing a horse with my solar plexus. Honestly.

We all have our things. Mine is balance.

  • All in/all out.
  • Hot/cold.
  • All my eggs in one basket.

Its one thing to know what your issues are. Its another altogether to have a horse show them to you.

There are 8 of us sitting together in a circle of chairs in the warm desert sun, as Wyatt Webb tells us a little of what he knows about horses and about life and about why men aren’t wired to ask for directions. He has a big warm smile and a folksy, matter-of-fact way of talking as he explains how good horse sense can go a long way towards better living. With his cowboy hat, full white beard and round belly, he comes across a bit like a Western Santa Claus.

When its time to meet the horses, I’m surprised to discover we won’t actually be riding them today. Instead, we’ll spend the next 2 hours learning to see the world from their perspective and trying our hand at communicating with them without using words or verbal cues.

As it turns out, horses have an exceptional ability to read people, just by our body language and energy. Nevermind that in order to get a horse to raise his foot so you can clean his shoe, you must approach from here, and squeeze the inside of his foreleg there and grab the underside of his foot like so. If you don’t project intention in each of these steps, he’s not going to budge.

Even more interesting, I think, is the fact that horses are led from behind. Instead of pulling them from out in front, the more effective approach is to lead a horse from behind – to push him forward using just your body language and energy. Turn your energy up from your core and walk towards the back of the horse and he walks forward with you. Turn that energy up a notch and he’ll speed up to a trot. Dial the energy down and he’ll slow down. Send mix signals and he’ll stop, or turn, or do pretty much anything except what you want him to.

Sitting on a bench in the outdoor arena watching Caitlin demonstrate how this works, I’ll admit, I was skeptical.  Not only is this horse well-trained, but he must be pretty used to having people chase around him in a circle. He just knows what to do, right?

Wrong. To my surprise, each of us succeeded or failed at this task in our own unique and personal way. One woman gave mixed signals, another quit too soon, another got tired after putting way more energy into the exercise than the horse did. When it was my turn to get in position behind the horse, I turned up my energy and started to push the horse forward, almost immediately pushing him into a full-on trot. Each time I slowed down, the horse came to a stop. Maybe it should have been obvious, but I was a little startled when Caitlin walked up and asked me quietly, “It seems like your energy is either way up or its almost non-existent. Do you find that to be true, that you’re either all in or your all out?” I laughed outloud. It took 2 more circles around the arena before I finally found the right balance to keep the horse walking at a steady pace.

If only it could be that easy out in the real world.


Today is Saint Patrick’s Day and if I were home in Atlanta right now, there’s a pretty good chance I’d be on a patio somewhere drinking green beer.

Instead, I’ve just walked back from the spa after a 100 minute session of thai massage, acupuncture and craniosacral therapy that’s left me with a mild-to-moderate chi buzz and a craving for fresh juice. I’m feeling positively, well, positive – so much so that I hardly even flinch when I find out the smoothie bar has already closed for the day.

Its been just  26 hours since my mom and I arrived at Miraval, the Tucson, AZ “Life in Balance” resort and spa I first heard about on The Oprah Winfrey Show when it made the list of Oprah’s Favorite Things in 2004. I remember Oprah and Gail walking among the manicured Xeriscapes in their plush white robes, talking with Dr. Andrew Weil during an episode about this or that integrative medicine topic. Or maybe that episode never happened. Being here, the image is so real in my mind its hard to know if I’ve imagined it or not.

I’m sitting on the terrace outside our room listening to the rustling of leaves in an afternoon breeze and enjoying our view of the Catalina Mountains under the umbrella of a big, crystal clear blue sky. On this day, like so many others, I know I’m luckier than I deserve to be.

Believe it or not, less than 24 hours ago I was irritable.

“I hope we’re not the fattest people here.” I said to my mom as I changed into my workout clothes a few minutes after we arrived.

“You know,” I said later, as we waited in line for our dinner reservation, “people out here in the west are pleasant enough, but they’re just never as friendly as a friendly southerner. Don’t you think so?”

“This place is nice and everything, “ I said on the moonlit walk back to our room after dinner, “but its no Ritz.”

Amazing how your perspective can change after a great night’s sleep and a little bit of space to just be. My insides are quieter. My yoga pants look better. When a rabbit ran across our path this morning, its somehow occurred to me for the first time in 41 years, “Oh. So that’s why they called him Peter Cottontail.”

I can’t wait to see what the next 5 days will bring.



How you can help

If you’ve already looked at the photo album from my trip, you should know that for every photo I took there are a hundred other better, more heart-breaking, more beautiful or more mind blowing than those I was able to capture. There are some pictures that our sense of decency or humanity just won’t allow us to take. I have some guilt about taking many of these — each time I pointed the camera at someone, I felt like I was stealing something important from them. It’s important to me to try to give back more than I took.

Some people have already asked how they can help. I’ll be collecting supplies and shipping them directly to Ralph or Mona in Haiti on an ongoing basis for at least the next few months. Once some of the immediate needs are satisfied, I’ll likely make a return trip with my group to evaluate other ways we can help. To start, though, this list is pretty easy and straightforward:

The school at Fond Verrette needs rain boots and rain coats for 300 kids grades 1 – 6, plus book bags and school supplies. Remember, most of these kids walk several miles each way to school — which is often the only meal they get. Without rain gear, it’s not only a miserable commute, but it poses dangerous risks for flu, malaria and other infectuous diseases.

The orphaned kids at Mona’s house need pretty much everything, but clothes and shoes are a great start. Hygiene products like soap, toothbrushes, shampoo, tampons, and diapers are also needed. The boys asked me for soccer balls and when I gave a few of the girls some sparkly strawberry lip gloss, you would have thought they won the lottery. 🙂 Of course, the most basic need of all is housing and we still need more large tents, so if this interests you, please let me know and I can give you more details.

If you would like to donate supplies, please contact me on Facebook or Gmail and we can coordinate based on your specific area of interest.

On behalf of Mona, the kids, teachers, and parents I met on this amazing trip, thank you in advance for your help. Any donation you can offer is enormously appreciated and will be delivered by me, directly to the people you’ve seen in my photo album.

Mary Frances

Coming Home

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Work Day

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Bucket Bath

Eddie and Ralph both lost their homes in the earthquake. When we visit what’s left of Eddie’s place, he shows us where his parents had been sitting when the roof came down.

Eddie’s entire block is devastated. Like so many in the middle class, his neighbors have set up their tents next to where their homes had been, instead of in the mass camps that populate every public park and open space down in the heart of the city. Some live out of their cars. Still more have fled Haiti completely, and are now living with family in The Dominican Republic or the U.S. (Eddie’s own parents, in fact, both escaped the falling roof with relatively small injuries and are living temporarily with his brother in New Jersey). Eddie is eager to rebuild but to date hasn’t received city approval to even clear his lot. Similarly, we witness a minor confrontation between Ralph and a man from his neighborhood over ownership of Ralph’s mother’s home, which is also collapsed. The original deed to the home is lost in the rubble, and — like every single government building in downtown Port Au Prince — the Deed Office is completely destroyed.

Eddie and Ralph have rented a house for guests of their 2Care foundation in what was previously the wealthy area of town, up in the hills of Patronville, looking over the city. For the last 3 months, the house has been Ralph’s primary residence. It is large but modestly appointed and needs a lot of general maintenance, not to mention a woman’s touch.

Janis and I sleep in bunk beds and share a bathroom at the end of the hall. Since water and electricity are only sporadically available, there is a large bucket in the shower filled with water from the reservoir on the first floor. When there´s no running water¨, Eddie explains, ¨We go Indian-style¨, though only later to I realize that means we bathe from water in the bucket (which come to find out can be surprisingly effective, as a well-travelled Facebook friend noted, and I soon validated.) I also learn a lesson in physics  when Janis explains that when the toilet pumps aren’t working, dumping a small bucket of water in the bowl actually triggers a flush.

So there is scarcely little electricity or running water, no air conditioning, no other modern conveniences. But given the circumstances that exist on the other side of the walls that shield us from the sun and rain, we choose to be grateful that there are also no mirrors in our part of the house.