After three weeks watching other boys and girls do it, I climbed the ladder, twelve feet above the blue water. 12 rungs for twelve apostles, and I mouthed the name of each in silent prayer until I reached the top. When both feet were on the white, sandpaper surface of the diving board, I whispered the name “Judas”. The Betrayer. The sun was hot, but I was shivering with fear. Unlike the pool.
The pool was a serene reflection of calm below…blue and inviting, shimmering and patient as water ought to be. The day was hot July, and noisy. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” blared over the loudspeaker, and a line had formed below me. The other boys expected me to take my turn like a good little soldier and not be a pussy. But they were more than happy to call me a pussy if I tarried too long. You could almost set a watch by it–a shot clock. You get exactly 47 seconds once you reach the lip of the diving board to make your decision to either jump or face public humiliation. My outward posture said, “Oh, I’ve done this a hundred times. Here–let me show you. Just a quick scamper up the ladder like so, a run and a bounce, and off we go into the wild, blue yonder.”
I was a fraud and I knew it. There was just a matter of time–seconds left, really– before the boys below would figure this out. I’d seen them taunt others. They were ruthless.
As an adult, or at least someone who looks suspiciously like one, I still struggle with jumping off the diving board today. I like to call this “fear of change”. It goes something like this: I see an obstacle. I contemplate how to conquer the obstacle. *Note: This contemplation may go on for days to years, depending on the fear I’ve attached to the obstacle. And then, I make a move. I climb the ladder. I walk the plank and stand on the edge, simultaneously ready and not ready to jump.
I jumped that day. I remember crashing through the serene blue water with my own sonic boom, fear melting away somewhere between the decision to jump and avoid the ridicule of the boys and the second later when my flat feet broke the surface of the water. Excitement and joy replaced the fear of jumping. The fear of being ridiculed was greater than my fear of the high dive. I’d weighed the ifs, ands, and buts in a matter of seconds and decided that words COULD hurt me, and water might only break my bones. I’d settle for water.
I wish I could say it gets easier with age. It doesn’t. Each new fear, obstacle, or invitation to change brings with it a new cast of ghouls and monsters. Some of the usual suspects show up, too, bringing new and frightening pals along with them, as if to say, “Look who I ran into at the pub! It’s Rejection’s dad–Shame. Mind if he joins us?”
The thing is, the tools remain the same. The sword of self defense, the hammer of acceptance. The knowledge that no matter what, staying stuck, addicted, shameful, worried, anxious, depressed, and all the other bullshit just will not do for one more day. Something has to give in because the tension required to stay stuck will break your bones and strip your spirit bare. It’s altogether too much.
So, it’s kind of like climbing a high dive. With each rung of the ladder, you leave the ego below on the pavement.(He thinks you’re foolish to do it anyway, so don’t bother bringing him along.) You’re at the top rung and your choices are simple, really. You can climb back down, slowly and humiliated, and risk the ridicule of all the neighborhood kids who anxiously await your defeat. Those kids are the negative, “See I told you so” thoughts that are in your head. Don’t act like you don’t know them. Your ego hangs out with them. They’re there every day, usually as soon as you hit the snooze button for the second time before you get out of the bed.
Or, you can walk the twelve foot Bhutan Death March to the edge of the diving board, feel it’s springy give beneath your frightened feet, feel how the board bends with you–it doesn’t fight against you. You can see the blue water oh-so-many feet below. The unknown, the descent into possible death, quiet, blue…and if you look hard enough, you just might be able to see your shadow self reflected in the water below–especially if the sun is conveniently at your back, warming you up.
Don’t you want to jump and meet your shadow self? He knows you better than anyone, and he’s probably more forgiving.