“What just happened?” she asked. “One minute we’re fine, and the next, everyone is out to assassinate me!”
Lars chuckled a little. “Well, it is called the Circle of Affirmation, not the Circle of Doom. I don’t think they were expecting that tirade from you.”
“Hey, Terence has been driving me insane. He’s like a little kid. I don’t even know how to talk to him. And now I don’t know how I am going to pull this group back together. This retreat was supposed to be a team builder, not team annihilator.”
Suddenly she stopped in her tracks. “What am I going to tell Taz? I could lose my job over this.” Heather could feel her pulse starting to race and the blood drain from her face. Taz was going to be furious. And it was all her fault.
“Look, I’ve been helping John do these team building exercises for five years now. Almost every group has some sort of breakdown at some point in the week. Frankly, I’m surprised you guys made it this long,” Lars said. He stepped closer toward her. “I can tell you what I have seen this week. I’ve seen a team pull together, making it through some of the hardest physical tests in our outdoor course. I’ve seen your people turn to you time and time again for leadership and encouragement. And I’ve seen you stepping up to the challenge, cheering them on as you work together with them side by side. You’re a great leader, Heather. You just need to remember that, and remember why they are part of your team.”
Lars reached out and lightly touched a stream of water drops that were flooding down Heather’s face and dripping off her chin. She could feel her face begin to flush with heat, despite the wet chill of the rain.
“You’re getting all wet,” Lars said.
“Um hmm,” was all she was able to respond with.
“I better get you back to the lodge.”
“Yes….wet….lodge,” she said incoherently.
Lars lightly took her hand and led her the rest of the way back.
At dinner that night Heather noticed everyone talking and laughing together, reenacting some of their crazier adventures on the retreat, that is until she came close. As she drew near they would suddenly get quiet and awkward until she moved away from them, and then the frivolity would continue.
Heather set her food on an empty table on the side, but decided she would rather eat in her room alone than face the nasty looks her colleagues were shooting her way. She headed to her room, wondering what she could do to resolve this situation, and also what Lars meant when he told her to remember why this bunch was part of her team.
After another restless night, the next morning came far too early. At last it was Friday. The week at the retreat was almost up. But how could they return to work with so many unresolved feelings? How could she fix what had been broken? Like John had said, the circle needed to be whole in order for the team to progress. Taz would totally notice something was up when they all got back. Then she would really have it!
After another awkward meal in the dining room, the group met in the lobby for the week’s final activity. Looking up at the moose head hanging above her, Heather wondered what they could possibly do to culminate this entire experience.
It had finally stopped raining, but the ground was still wet outside. They borrowed the green rubber boots again and followed John and Lars along the path that they had started on the day before. Heather hoped that they weren’t going to try to recreate the Circle of Affirmation. Her circle was beyond repair at this point, she thought.
They didn’t turn off toward the meadow, however. They continued on the path past the obstacle course and ropes course which they had toiled over and conquered earlier in the week. Finally they came to a small clearing which came to an abrupt stop at a steep ledge. Everyone wandered over to the edge to see what lay below. There were jagged rocks cascading down the cliff, which dropped into a wide expanse of vibrant green trees.
John stood next to a curious set of posts set into the earth close to the edge of the cliff. They were positioned like a sort of staircase, five of them in graduating heights until they reached the final post, which was around six feet tall. The group gathered around where John was stationed.
To Heather’s surprise, John began to speak to them in an almost hushed tone. “These are the Pillars of Trust,” he said, patting the middle post and pausing for effect. Everyone turned their attention to the posts and waited expectantly. “Your team has been through many struggles and hardships this week. You have learned to rely on each other for strength and inspiration. This is where the true test lies. Consider this your final exam. Pass this test, and you will discover what a true team is.”
Lars began to climb the posts until he reached the final one. He stood on it, legs together, his feet barely fitting on the top. He faced toward the valley, crossing his arms across his chest. Heather wondered if this was some strange meditation ritual.
“One at a time, you will each ascend the Pillars of Trust. Your teammates will stand at the base of the pillars, standing in two lines facing each other, their arms clasped together. When you are ready you will release your fears, put your trust in your teammates, and fall backwards into their arms. It is the epitome of a trust fall.”
Everyone stood speechless. Heather looked up at Lars, who seemed so high off the ground. How could anyone break the fall of someone from so high up?
Martina was the first to say anything, as Lars climbed back down from the posts. “Are you sure this is safe? I mean, has anyone gotten hurt?”
“Oh yes,” John said, “It’s safe. But only if you follow the rules. Plenty of people have gotten hurt.”
There was a general groan that swept through the group.
“Exactly what are the rules?” Pete called off loudly.
Lars stepped in with the response. “First, you must remain stiff and straight. If you bend at the waist you will probably fall through your teammates arms. Second, you must keep your arms tight into your body. The more you flail around the harder you are to catch. And third, you must trust your team. Know that they are there and they won’t let you fall.”
A general mumbling flew through the group as people talked nervously about what they were expected to do. How could anyone trust these people enough to break a fall? With these pale, spindly arms as the only means of protection, they would probably go crashing right through. Who would be brave enough to go first? Who would be willing to put everyone to the test?
Heather felt like she had no choice. “I will go first,” she said, and everyone turned toward her. They had a curious assortment of expressions directed toward her: surprise, annoyance, skepticism, relief. She moved toward the posts and stood close to the tallest one, which towered over her head.
“I know that this has been a rough week,” she said, looking imploringly around the group of people that stood there, her teammates. “I know that I said things that I shouldn’t have and I regret it. But I also know that we have overcome some major hurdles together as well. We made it through that obstacle course in record time. I know we couldn’t have done that without Alan and Steve leading the way. Who would have predicted that? I am sure that I am not the only one who was amazed by our performance. And then when things got tough in the ropes course, Martina was incredible showing us how to change the way we positioned ourselves, helping us be the most productive. And where would we have gotten without Roger’s and Pete’s strong backs? We would probably still be stuck back behind that ridiculous wall we had to climb over. The point is, we all have things to offer the group. We all play an important role. We came together and solved the problems as a team, because that’s what we are: a team. And I think that Terence is right. We are even more than just a team. We are a family.”
Heather looked at Terence, who was starting to blush, and he quickly dropped his eyes. Everyone stood completely silent and still. Heather didn’t know what they thought of her. Had she said enough? Would they be willing to step up to the commitment of catching her, or would they let her fall?
As she climbed the steps, the words that Terence had overheard her say ran through her mind, “I would have just let him fall.” She tried not to think about it.
When she reached the top step, she placed her feet tight together, trying to keep her balance on the tall post. She was looking out over the valley below. The posts were set close enough to the edge of the cliff that it made her feel like she was standing on the edge of the world. She looked out at the rolling green of forest and hills, spreading as far as her eyes could see, which only ended as it met the vast expanse of blue overhead. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
Heather folded her arms tightly across her chest. From below John called out that they were ready for her. In the silence that followed she could hear the sound of a bird calling its mate from the trees below. The second bird echoed its partner’s call. She thought for sure that everyone, including the birds, would hear her heart practically beating out of her chest.
Finally, after one last deep breath and with one last look at the horizon, Heather closed her eyes and allowed herself to slide back into the nothingness of air. It felt like her body was moving in slow motion. Her gradual drop felt as though she would fall forever. They were going to let her fall. She anticipated the brutality of her impending crash. But then suddenly she was engulfed in arms and hands and cheers and cries. Cradled in their arms, she looked up and all she could see was her teammates’ beaming faces, their hair set afire from the warmth of the sun overhead.
As they set her back on the ground, Heather looked over at Lars who was standing next to the Pillars of Trust. He smiled and gave her a thumbs up, while Terence let out a whoop loud enough that it echoed through the valley below.