Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Leap First....Think Later.

courtesy of
When I was a kid, I loved my birthday, though not for the reason you’d think.  Sure, I was thrilled to have a party with all my friends and family gathered around the table as I’d rip through present after present sailing high above it all with crazy excitement.  But unlike other kids, I didn’t get sad once the day passed.  You see, my birthday fell on, or right before the Memorial Day holiday which meant the community pool would be opening for the summer season.

How I loved going to the pool and splashing around, playing endless games of Marco Polo!  The pool was a vast playground and my friends and I would venture into deeper parts, breathlessly treading water and dunking ourselves as far down as possible, hoping to touch bottom.

The pool held around 250 people at a time with a smaller, separate pool off to the side, with two diving boards.  We appropriately called that “The Diving Pool” deeming the shorter diving board, the “Low Dive” and the much taller one, the “High Dive,” of course. 

Thanks to swimming lessons, I’d conquered the low dive at a very young age, happily lining up for my turn as the lifeguards chased us from the main pool when it was time for Adult Swim.  I loved the low dive and got quite good and running fearlessly to the end, taking a profound jump and allowing the board to catapult my body in its diving glory, up and out into the water.

The high dive was another story. 

For starters, it wasn’t for kids.  The house rule was that no one under twelve years old and a certain height was allowed to use it.  The fact that I had to wait made the high dive all the more appealing and each year, as my friends and I eagerly awaited the start of pool season, the talk amongst us was all about who would be “going off” the high dive that year. 

My twelfth birthday held major significance, not only because I was one year away from being a full-fledged teenager, but I was finally eligible for the high dive.  I told my friends that I was ready, but secretly, I was terrified.  That’s the thing about desire – it’s much safer when you dream about what you want, than when you actually have to do something about it.

Take my writing for instance.  For years, I’ve dreamt of becoming a successful writer.  I’ve kept a journal since 1992, taken a trillion classes and have written a book.  I’ve been walking around with that book for almost a year now, nestled in the safety of fantasy about its success and how it will change my life.

The problem is that each time I get closer to putting it out there – pitching it to weary agents whom, some of which have actually told me, “I’m always hoping I don’t like the book.”  − I chicken out and go back to the low dive and the place that’s familiar.   Familiar and safe pretty much equals fear and the fear is a wonderful ally when it comes to making excuses and providing distractions.  I’ve got several whoppers like, “I’ll wait for the new moon to send out my pitches” or “I know!  Forget the book.  I’m going to write a screenplay!”

It’s a tricky business this fear thing and I can’t help but think about my days at the public pool.  I’d stood on line three times only to excuse myself at the last minute, mumbling about having to go to the bathroom.  Everywhere I turned, that damn diving board was in my view, taunting me like a hungry matador, waiting for his bull.  I dreamt about that thing and finally, when I couldn’t stand the pressure any more, I got up from my towel – the one with cans of Fresca all over it – and walked quietly over to the board.

I stood in line, as usual and thought about getting off.  But something in me was determined this time and as the diver in front of me leapt off the board, I reached out and grabbed the rail to hoist myself up the ladder.

It was a long climb as one could only imagine.  The heat of the sun didn’t help my already sweaty palms and it took everything I had not to fall off the ladder, as my slippery hands clutched the stainless steel railing.  When I got to the top, time seemed to freeze along with my legs and I stood there paralyzed with fear.

“Forget it! Just climb back down,” the hecklers in my head pleaded.  “You don’t have to do this.”

I was so scared that I couldn’t climb down even if I really wanted to. 

“Holy cow!  It’s Liz! It’s Liz!  She’s up on the high dive,” I heard someone say over my pounding heart and heavy breathing.  “Woo hoo!  Go get ‘em Liz!  You can do it!”

People were suddenly watching which made it worse.  Or so I thought.  The fact that my friends and family were out there cheering for me and urging my success reminded me that they would be there once I jumped.  That gave me comfort and a little strength, as I shuffled slowly out to the edge.

“Don’t look down,” I murmured as I got closer to end of the board.

It was shaky – the board − and the unsteadiness yanked my courage away for a second.  I stood there, settling myself and took a deep breath.  This was it.  After this moment, I would no longer be afraid of the high dive.  I could check it off my list and throw it away.  The exhilaration in being so close to accomplishment made me a little dizzy as I shut my eyes, took one last breath and basically stepped off the diving board.

And just like that, I was flying through the air, downward.  I’d like to tell you that I remember every second of it, but I don’t.  The only thing I remember was how hard the water smacked my cheeks when I hit it and how far down into the twelve foot pool I plunged.

When I came up for air and swam over to the ladder, I heard whoops of celebration and claps of appreciation coming from my little corner of the sitting area.  Climbing up and out of the water, I walked back to my towel with shaky legs waiting to feel something. 

Was I different somehow?  Did it change me?

I suppose it did because all I said to my best friend who was standing and waiting for me with my towel in hand was, “I’m going up again tomorrow.  But this time, I’m going to take a running start.”

At the end of the day, it’s all a high-dive.  Some boards are springy and require a little extra care and concentration when walking to the edge.  Others are more solid and require a stronger sense of purpose and intention.  Either way, once you leap, you’ve set something in motion and as you fly through the air, don’t be tense waiting for the smack of the water against your body.  Smile and relax, because once you do hit that water, things won’t ever be the same again.  That high dive you just jumped off – just got a little shorter.

No comments: