It wasn’t a dare. It was a polite invitation. Just a simple proposition, really. But it sent my imagination rushing backward, years flashing by. I curled my toes over the rough rock outcropping and looked out across the lake. Jillian waved her arms gracefully through the top of the water, treading a few feet out from the bank and calling to those of us on the rocks: “Anyone want to swim to the other side with me?” In the glint of the North Cascades sun on the water, I saw the path of my life diverge.
When was the last time I’d taken a running leap and splashed into a body of water? Or run across a field of grass simply because it felt wonderful? Growing up does funny things to us humans. I think it starts when we’re teenagers, growing uncomfortable in our own skins and deathly fearing anything that would make us look or feel uncool. We reign in our natural movements. We start to sneak glances of ourselves in reflective windows as we pass by. We become “too cool” for this, “too grown up” for that.
Many of us become hyper-conscious of our bodies. Would my thighs jiggle unflatteringly if I wear this? Would someone see my flaws if I stepped out in front of the crowd to do that? And instead of facing our fears, we become content to sit on the sidelines. Comfortable. Secure.
The breeze fluttered in the trees over my head as I looked out across the lake, gauging my swimming skills against the still, chilly mountain water. I remembered jumping and diving into the swimming pool over and over and over as a child. It was so simple: It was fun, so I didn’t want to stop doing it.
My freshman year of college, I would load up my friends in a car to drive out to the abandoned limestone quarry on the edge of town. In Speedos and Chacos we’d step cautiously up to the edge of the cliff, waiting for the first one to make the 30-foot jump. Then the rest of us would follow, one at a time making the leap that would send our stomachs into our throats and suck the air from our lungs in shrieks of fear and pleasure. I’m sure part of my motivation to do that was to show off, but one thing I remember is how alive and free I felt.
Ten years later, standing on the edge of the lake in my 30-something body with my early 30-something insecurities, I saw clearly the two directions I could let my mind and heart—and, therefore, my body—go. I could stay wrapped in my towel shyly on the bank and watch while Jillian stroked her way through the smooth, glistening water to the other side. I’d be comfortable. Probably warmer. I’d avoid the bubbly feeling of subtle fear that comes with finding yourself far from the edge of a body of water. There would be nothing inherently wrong with deciding to stay on the beach and enjoying the afternoon at the lake like a grownup, sunbathing on my towel.
But my heart saw the symbolic moment. I think we all face these moments once in a while: Do we content ourselves on the sidelines, watching other people live the crazy, beautiful moments we dream about? Or do we dive into the cold water, braving the tinges of fear and coming alive in the adventure again the way we were when we were too young to worry about acting “grown up?”
So I jumped.
Photo courtesy of Ville .fi via Creative Commons.