Posted by: donrhymer | April 19, 2013

On Belay

When Carrie was a little girl she was invited to go camping with a friend’s family.  She was intrigued; this was something new and different.  She asked me, “Mommy, do we have a camping dad?” I thought about it for a minute and replied, “No honey, we have a room service dad”.  That pretty much summed up the way Don liked to vacation.  Nice hotels, nice pools, nice bars.  A hotel without room service?  That was camping.  A hotel without a bar?  Like being left alone in the wilderness.

On the other hand, I grew up camping.  My family had a trailer, and that’s how we spent most of our vacations.  We would pull out the Woodall’s Campground Guide and plan out our trip.  In college I joined the Outdoor Adventure Club, and spent many weekends backpacking, hiking, and cross country skiing.  I’ve even done my fair share of spelunking (crawling in and out of caves).  When our girls were younger I was their Girl Scout leader, and I loved teaching them about the outdoors. I once took 40 girls on an overnight backpack trip.

One day last week I woke up feeling an almost physical need to see the houses and neighborhoods that we have lived in since we moved to California.  As hard as it is, I have been learning to trust myself when I get this feeling and just go for it.  Don and I moved to Toluca Lake from the Washington D.C. area and lived there for two years.   We then moved to Burbank where we spent the next seven years.

For three hours on Wednesday I drove around the streets and neighborhoods where we lived.  The memories came flooding back.  Don walking the kids to preschool with Bagel the Beagle.  The places where the kids took gymnastics and swimming lessons; neighborhood markets.  Sunday afternoons watching Don play baseball, and parks where the kids had played.  Homes of old friends.  I felt the urgency of remembering – of making sure I don’t forget any of it.  I came home and was completely done for the day.

Kathy had texted me several times that afternoon, but I was driving and couldn’t text back.  And I didn’t feel like talking.  She was worried about me; I hadn’t let her know where I was or what I was doing.  However, that evening she asked me about my day, and as I described my experience I compared it to rock climbing.  I thought back to a climbing term I’d heard years ago.

Belay.  “The process of securing and safeguarding a climber by using rope to hold the climber’s weight if he falls.”  The climber says “on belay” to let the person holding the rope at the top (the belayer) know that he needs support.  And then the belayer responds “belay on” to let the climber know that he is secure; that he is safe; that it’s ok to climb.

I tried rappelling in college, and it scared the crap out of me.  I did it one time.  I don’t know what I was thinking – I’m scared to death of heights.  We did some climbing at Seneca Rocks and Reddish Knob.  The mountains of West Virginia and Virginia are beautiful – from the ground.

I’m beginning to realize that when I feel like I’m sliding down the side of the cliff, down a hole, I need to communicate with someone at the top.  To either let them know that I’m ok; that I can climb out on my own.  Or to let them know that I’m already at the bottom, and have no idea how to get out.

That’s what the climber’s rope is for.  And that’s what community is all about.

Belay on.

P.S.  Don would be waiting at the top for me with a gin martini – up, with a twist…

– Kate



  1. Beautiful analogy of our gift of community. Kate I’m so glad the Lord has you in the midst of its kind grip.

  2. It’s a hard mountain face, Kate, please keep everything on… the belay, the helmet, call the park rangers if you need to. Thank you for posting on the blog – keep it up.
    David Archibald

  3. So many people avoid pain and sorrow any way they can. I admire your willingness to explore wherever your heart carries you in your desire to keep your beloved memories of Don. Thanks for allowing us this window into your heart. Thinking of you, always.

  4. Brilliant prose – once again. What a beautiful depiction of community. You can rest assured that you are surrounded by a community of people who love and support you.
    (P.S. As I read your post and laughed out loud several times, I swear I could hear Don saying, “That’s funny!”)

  5. so glad I sat on the bench with him between innings
    at that baseball diamond in Burbank, where’d he’d make
    fun of how I always pulled the ball, hit me groundballs before
    games, and told me to stay back in the batter’s box,
    knock one to right field just to show that I could…

    always up, with a twist – belay on, Kate

  6. I love this. I used to say to friends I will text you “Friend 911”. Never used it even when I needed it. I guess it sounded too dramatic like I needed the Firetruck, Paramedics, Police, Search and Rescue to save me.

    I will Belay from here on out;-)

  7. Touching post, Kate. I think there’s a community of us all remembering Don… and those funny little things that suddenly pop into your memory. Before Don came into the office one day, I decided to completely cover his door in post-it notes – expecting him to say “you have waaay too much time on your hands.” Instead he decided to just ignore it. I could tell he was trying not to say anything. He probably had a thousand funny one liners. Nada. It was brilliant – and frustrating. Just what he wanted. That was probably the night he came home and had a double. Cheers Don.

  8. Hmmm…I’m going to need your girls scout advice for my girls scout troop. I’m a room service kinda of mom. Yes, I have to take my girls camping! Yikes! Love your posts and I know Don does too.

  9. Just read on AOL… there is finally a new hospital gown design that closes in the back!…. Don would be so happy!

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