At ten I swallowed my fear and timidly climbed the ladder to the high dive. I think I wanted to prove something, not to others, but to myself. I'm not afraid of heights; that wasn't the source of the fear. I think maybe it was that people might watch. People always watch the high dive. There's some risk there. Some uncertainty. It's such a long way to fall. Will the form hold so tightly that there's virtually no splash at all? Is it a character up there, determined to drop the cannon ball of all cannon balls to douse the lifeguard? Will he be chastised and admonished with curt ear-piercing whistles? There's always uncertainty, suspense, with the high dive.
As I ascended, I fixated on the slippery ladder. I imagined the impact of my body on the pavement below if I should fall. I wondered how much blood there'd be. Would I die? At the top, again, my attention was keenly aware of the danger of falling. I saw flashes of my body sliding off the side of the board, coming to a crushing blow with the medium dive, neck broken, body askew. I hesitantly teetered to the end and stood there, shocked that the board beneath me wasn't sturdier, more dependable. I tenderly bounced, frigid in the wind. A voice from below the ladder shouted, "Go! Come on!" Rushed, embarrassed, I stepped off the edge, legs scissoring like possessed blades, arms flailing. I came crashing into the water with anything but grace. I burst through the surface, eyes stinging with chlorine, gasping.
I've been thinking about that experience today -- something I haven't thought about in years. It's either comforting in its familiarity or disappointing in that notion that perhaps we never actually grow out of childhood at all, but it's apt. So much of my current state of life is like that high dive experience. It's easy to be governed by fear and uncertainty. But it isn't liberating. It isn't enjoyable. It isn't making the most of life.
Had I approached it differently, I might have noticed the strength in my arms and legs as I ascended the ladder. I might have felt powerful, capable. I might have noticed the rough sandpaper grip of the rungs -- precautions had been taken, innovation put into action. I was perfectly safe. Once on the board, I might have noticed the view. I might have taken in the eyes turned upward in anticipation, eager to watch my experience. I might have noticed the easy spring of the board, sound, but capable of catapulting me high into the air with just the smallest effort, defying gravity, if only for a moment. I might have exhilarated in the sensation of body racing through air, free falling, trusting, knowing I'd be gently cradled by the water below. I might have relished the rush as my head emerged from the depths of the water, cool and clean, into the fresh air. I might have smiled. Laughed.
Instead I was so preoccupied with the fear of what might happen, of the catastrophe that could occur, I wasn't capable of taking in each of the moments. I missed them. I neglected to recognize them. And it's a pity. I still do. I miss the moments all the time. I let fear take the helm.
I'm about to take a plunge off another high dive, of sorts. I don't want to be the maniacal leaper --rushed, fearful, uncertain. I don't want to miss the opportunities to notice, to truly experience and be present. I've been that ten-year-old self, but it isn't too late. Beginning now, I'm making a conscious effort to be present and take it in. To feel the heat of the pavement, the rough grit of the rungs, the bounce of the board and the wind and the view and the joy and the anticipation. This time, when I finally take the leap, I want to enjoy every moment -- the ascent, the fall, the reemergence. The grin. The rush.
What a beautiful thing to know I can, if I choose.