By Rochelle Dornatt

Every week I climb a 23-foot ladder to a little platform, steel my nerves…and jump off. Once I land, I get up and do it all over again. And again. And again. I am a trapezist. Yes, I fly trapeze. Just like in the circus. Well, maybe not exactly like in the circus; I’m not that good. I’m not that bad, either. But good or bad, I do it.

For the length of years I have been flying trapeze (six) I probably should be way better than I am. But as my trainer likes to say, “It’s a journey.”

Actually I give myself points for getting as far as I have. During those six years I had a back injury, a total hip replacement and weeks off here and there for business trips. Even so, despite the interruptions I got back into the swing of things – never mind that it often meant starting from scratch and relearning the basics.

I retired at the beginning of this year after working 35 years in Congress. It was a rewarding, fulfilling, yet brutal job. Reams of policy analyses; months of campaigning; the Machiavellian politics; long, long hours at the office; and, constituents with demands great and small, real and petty – these were my daily challenges for more than three decades.   I relished them! Threw myself into the work and loved it. The job was not without its risks (Will this policy really help America, or not? Can we save this constituent’s home from foreclosure? Can we build a new hospital for veterans? Will the voters re-elect us so I can stay employed?) But the only way to do the job was jump into it and use whatever skills I had to complete the deal. Most of the time I got things right. Sometimes I didn’t. In those instances I had to fall back, learn a new lesson and depend on others to catch me.

I think my trapeze work is not so different from my life’s work. Each day we climb out of bed, face the maw of the day – and jump. It’s risky but we do it. We have our mentors, who, like a good trapeze trainer, help us along the way.  We have to work at our tasks continuously to get them right, or start over and relearn them. We have some tricks for navigating the space we move through. That involves control, stamina, power, timing…and a little luck. If we work hard at it we get good; if we don’t, we atrophy. Through it all, we have a net to catch us (friends, family) when things go wrong or we just need a soft place to land.

Just a few weeks ago I celebrated my 62nd birthday. I like to think I did it in style: I flew trapeze! I got to wear a birthday trapeze tutu and caught my trick at the end. Hooray! The whole event characterized my life perfectly: living it with gusto, flying high, and not being afraid to jump.

Rochelle Dornatt is a long-time player in congressional politics and policies who recently retired (sort of) after 35 years on Capitol Hill. She splits her time between Washington, DC where she continues to consult in the political realm, and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where she tends a small farm. While working for Congress, Ms. Dornatt became noted for her tenacious negotiating skills and her zeal for serving the public. Her legislative accomplishments include shepherding the Americans with Disabilities Act through the legislative process; being at the forefront of legislation reforming campaign finance laws; and, amending DOD regulations to provide greater support for civilian communities negatively impacted by military base closure. On the farm she is an avid gardener and canner and also spends many evenings swinging in her porch swing. Amid all this, she holds most sacrosanct the two hours a week she dedicates to trapeze work, believing you can’t get a higher high out of life than free floating upwards of 30 feet in the air.

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