Monday, July 25, 2016

The High Jump

When I was thirteen years old, my best friend and I loved to go to this public swimming pool in Clayton called Shaw Park. She lived nearby and we would walk over and spend the day there. There was a kiddie pool and the main swimming pool, which was huge and finally there was a separate pool, not as big but very deep and was just for diving off the platforms-- there were three platforms.

The picture pretty much gives you an idea of the setup. You can see the deep pool and the platforms.

So, I wanted to jump off the platform and I thought rationally I would start with the lowest platform. I climbed the ladder and walked up to edge and peeked over. Now, I had been jumping and diving off diving boards for years and I was not really afraid to do that, but as I stood looking over the edge of this platform, I realized it was higher than anything I had ever jumped off before. I looked over at the two lifeguards on the side of the pool.
One of them was a cute guy wearing a maroon bathing suit. My best friend and I had been googly eyed over this guy for weeks, part of why we wanted to go to the "big deep pool".
I stood there for a while. There were people behind me waiting. I walked back over and saw the people waiting.

"Are you going to go or not?" Someone yelled at me. I tried again, walking to the edge and looking down. At that point, the panic kicked in and my heart started really pounding.
No, no, no. This was too high.

I went back to the ladder and went back down, feeling the flush of humiliation in every step towards the ground. People were probably laughing at me. Look at the skinny, terrified girl. I ran to the safety of the large, crowded pool where I could go back to the anonymity of becoming part of the crowd. My best friend was amused but patient. I don't remember her making fun of me or making me feel bad about it. She was often there to coax me or comfort me. At that time, she was the person who would order from the waitress when we went out to eat on the days when I was too afraid to talk to people I didn't know. She quietly understood my shyness and my fears and never pushed me to do things that I didn't feel I could, but she always encouraged me to try. Sometimes, just standing by me was the most helpful thing.
That summer we climbed up that platform many more times with the same result. She used to go first and confidently jump off and then stand below waiting for me to figure out if I could go.

I chickened out an embarrassing amount of times. I don't even rightly remember how many times I went up, walked slowly to the edge, stood there for what felt like an eternity of seconds and returned to the ladder to go back down.
One day, I stood there and told myself I was going to do it. I told myself I was not allowed to fail. I steeled up, gathered my courage and put on my determined face. I was not going to run away this time. I mean, I think I told myself every time I got up there I was going to do it this time. This time I was going to succeed, this time I was going to be brave, this time was going to be different and every time it wasn't. Every time I couldn't find the courage to overcome that gripping terror that hit me when I looked down. I stood there and stood there and then, magically, I let go. I jumped. My body hung in the air for a brief moment and plunged deep in to the pool. I opened my eyes and looked at the surface far above me and swam hard to reach it. Vividly, I remember breaking through and taking a moment to look around me. The lifeguard telling me to swim to the edge so the next person could jump and me looking over.
There was no applause when I finally jumped.
There was no moment where anyone noticed except my best friend who was there, smiling.
She was the only who noticed that I had climbed Mount Everest and jumped into the pool below.
I think that is how it is for a lot of things. These personal moments that come with conquering something huge while everyone is standing around waiting in line to do something that is not that big a deal to them.
But for me, it means that I was able to fail a bunch of times and not give up on the goal. That diving platform gave me a lot of grit and courage. Sometimes, you have to fail and move on to other things. Sometimes you don't get the chance to climb up the platform again. But that platform always gave me hope that I could try again. That being afraid was not the end of the world, that time would give me courage, that determination would get me through it and that jumping into the air was magical. In life, sometime you have to jump off the mountain and turn that fear into exhilaration. Do the thing that scares you the most. Do the thing that makes your palms sweat and your heart race.
I always come back to the platform when the thing in front of me terrifies me. I will say to myself, you jumped off that platform, this is not a big deal. I will take a deep breath and dig in.

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