And so I was in the wilderness. It was a summer of perfect weather at the end of 2010, but I felt I was entering a winter of missed opportunities. I had injured myself from overtraining that I couldn’t beginning running again, and besides which lacked the motivation to start to rebuild. It is when we are hardest hit that personal discipline is most important. Even if during these times you know that it will be unlikely to hit any home runs, you still must try. Never let personal disappointment become the reason for embracing Backswing.
I was at a loss as to how to find a way forward for the 10 City Bridge Run. I felt caught between having began and not having the means to continue. I was wedged. To my mind, financial constraints was the limiting factor, and as I thought more about this it brought me in closer orbit to the question I sought to address through this method: what impact could one individual have on changing a problem? I knew that collaboration was integral to any solution, but also recognised that unless I had the requisite fuel to sustain myself what good was I to anybody?
My thinking showed a great limitation and failure in imagination to embrace possibilities outside of my own thinking that could come from the crowd. I was reluctant to accept that fact that perhaps my efforts were fully dependent on the support from others. I had yet to fully embrace the offering that is presented through crowdfunding. This dependency on others to allow collaboration to occur is something we are not attuned to from the way we are conditioned in society.
Christmas came closer and seemed to bring a deadline of finality to my fate. With every day, I seemed to move further and further from the possibility of ever conducting this epic quest. At this point in time, the only thing that seemed epic was the catastrophic nature of my ineptitude. It appeared that I would have to write back to the supporters who had backed me and explain that I had stuffed up. I would need to come clean and declare that I was pursuing a fantasy, an unobtainable dream. It was a feeling of being gutted.
I had organised the crowdfunding around the publishing of a book of human bridges. My original concept for this book was wildly unachievable in hindsight. Having wildly unachievable goals is not necessarily a bad thing, as though as you have the mettle to continue to pursue them regardless of the obstacles that might come your way. A goal that seemed wildly unachievable also was part of a narrative that an individual might have the audacious temerity to even suggest that influencing child mortality was possible from their actions as a start point.
Initially, I had planned a book with 24,000 photographs of human bridges. I wasn’t exactly sure what these would look like, neither was I exactly sure how I might curate them, but I believed that because I could comprehend the idea that the realisation of that task would in some way be possible.
I might give the credit here to the early supporters of the 10 City Bridge Run. Whether they were supporting me out of a sense of loyalty because we were friends, or whether they too bought into the idea of change I am not sure. But it was only because of their response to my request to support this initiative that I was able to even consider this idea as possible. There are times when new ideas are not good ideas, and need to be killed off or refined. How we engage with new ideas is a personal decision for us all, but we must be aware of the impact this might have on others.
The support from others gave me the encouragement I needed to continue. It really did. This points to another aspect to Backswing. We should be respectful of the dreams and ambitions of others. Our actions and words can build people up or tear people down. Just because someone asks us for their support it doesn’t mean that we have an obligation to respond exactly in the way they expect. Sometimes, declining to support their request accompanied by remarks that are constructively critical of what they proposed can be the best thing for everyone. Few ideas are perfect at the beginning, and they need opportunity for refinement.
We should allow the people the space to swing at the ball and strike out. Don’t let this happen in a way that is wasteful or damaging to the person who is waiting to hit the ball, but we should do what we can so that they are not left at Backswing simply because the lack of support or feedback from others.
The year was drawing to an uneventful end. At Christmas parties, people would ask me what I had been doing in general conversation. I found responding to that question was difficult. I couldn’t pretend that nothing was happening, but also to admit I was part way through a debacle seemed unwise. I stumbled through the awkward response with a muttered excuse for my existence, hoping that they would would be disinterested enough to not ask anything more.
And then something unexpected happened, unsolicited, that would change the course of this initiative. Prior to getting to the point of being injured and running out of time in early November, I had emailed many people with what in hindsight must have read like a desperate plea for help as opposed to extending an invitation to get involved through supporting the 10 City Bridge Run. I had many encouraging responses from people who wanted me to succeed but who weren’t in a position to contribute. Then, coincidentally as we approached Christmas and into the early New Year, I received a handful of responses containing the support from friends, many of whom inhabited very different social worlds.
Their support was like seeing the first light of a new dawn, and even when those early rays are heralding a false dawn. Even a false dawn is still an opportunity for a new beginning. Each person had a different reason to support me, and none would have been aware of the position of exasperation I had reached. It must be said that without the support of those who stepped up earlier, their would have been nothing to support. But as it was, the trickle of supporters made a profound difference.
My sister Bronwen and her family were the first people to make a contribution after this moment of feeling crushed had been reached in early November, and of course having the support of my sister meant a great deal to me. I didn’t need her support to value the relationship I have with her as my sister, but given I was in a position of profound need at that point, even a small gesture brought with it added significance. A number of good friends followed, all offering their encouragement, some because they knew I had slipped into a position of financial hardship, others because they were expressing their own sense of generosity grounded in a shared friendship. Receiving the support from others when you are desperate is humbling. These people are perhaps completely unaware of the difference they made at the time, but I always enjoy seeing a number of friends for the difference they made at this point for that reason, among them being Tom, Anni, Min, Jim, Ian, Joy, Andrew, Pete and Edna, Tui, Chris and Judy, Janine and Mark.
The responses from Mark, Chris and Judy were special simply because I hadn’t been in contact with them for a few years before they wrote to me with their support. Like an addict buying into the fantasy that somehow another hit would be all they needed for happiness once and for all, I found myself gripping onto their support as social proof that somehow I was on the right path.
I responded to Mark, Chris and July with letters, but I didn’t have a current address for them and no email that I believed to work. I have no idea if they received my note to say thank you. Since that time, I have sent many updates of my progress, and as I am writing this I am aware of my omission in not making more of an effort to track them down to say thank you in person with news about the status of the 10 City Bridge Run. I expect that the first time they will know how this journey is proceeding will be when they read these words printed in the first edition of this book. I hope they will be proud of what has been achieved because of the catalyst that their support made to the situation, and will know how thankful I am for them being part of the team, as I am of all the supporters who have made this epic quest possible.
A flicker of hope can be a lifeline, but also create a dangerous illusion. We need to listen to our own instincts as well as to those around us. Not every voice we hear will be right, and sometimes it is the encouragement from others that trumps our own desire to quit and keeps us going. It has hard to know during the difficult times what is likely to work. All we can know is not to reinforce failure. Own the process, own your mistakes, and be prepared to keep going when the opportunity presents itself.
There is a fine line between courage and recklessness. The more often we are brought to a place where we find the strength we need from a flicker of hope, the stronger our ability will become in discerning how to advance into the fog of the unknown. Never give up.