alone. There were many other, bringing their families, coming in from out of town to enjoy the scenery of John Shut-Ins State Park on this beautiful July afternoon.
I stood at the edge. One step forward would have me tumbling off the side and violently onto the rocks below. My legs trembled. Would I leap far enough to miss them?
What do you do when there is only one acceptable next move, that just so happens to be the least rational decision? I could jump, I could put my faith in my unexperienced legs and body, but that could end in tragedy. I had never make a leap like this before, and failing to would mean a broken leg or a slew of other injuries.
My friends cheered me on from below, demanding I make the jump. Everything would be fine, they told me, if I took the leap. I would be down there with them, energized, laughing about my fear in a matter of seconds. It was that easy. Just jump.
Frozen, I casually played off my fear and pretended to enjoy the view. I’m sure it was lovely, but I was far from enjoying it. I wanted nothing more than to be in the water, off this ledge, eyes diverted from my fears towards something, anything else.
That would only happen if I let it. The audience was mine. I had their undivided attention. Until I moved, either by climbing back down the rocks in an admission of defeat, or plunging down into the water below despite better judgement, the spotlight would remain focused on me.
The terror was so real, and it seemed as though I wasn’t going to move. No decision was acceptable. I was stuck. Up the rocks they came, looking to give me an added ‘push’ of encouragement. I knew that when they reached me, I would literally be pushed off of the ledge to a rocky grave.
The clock was ticking.
They climbed closer. I was running out of time. The decision was increasingly out of my hands as more people took interest in what was happening. Is this kid going to jump?
Other voices began creeping into my consciousness:
- You’ve spent the past several years getting into shape, and you can’t even make this jump?
- If you don’t jump now, you’re accepting a life of mediocrity and fear.
To back away from the water, to avoid the leap of faith, seemed to be a great violation. I was already there. It was time to jump.
She drew closer. I had seconds left. My trembling legs took two steps back. I looked around. My heart pounded. My mind raced. The adrenaline rushed through my every vein. There was no decision left to be made. This is it. Time is up. My rationality went with the wind. My thoughts went blank. Instincts took over and...
I had relinquished all power. Nothing was in my hands. In that moment, I was at the mercy of gravity. I knew, in that quick moment in time, that I had hesitated in my leap in a final act of defiance and fear. I hadn’t traveled very far, and the rocks were still dangerously near me. I thought I may hit them. I closed my eyes and, acknowledging my lack of control, accepted every possible outcome.
The water hit me, hard, like I had just been slapped along the entirety of my body in one, swift blow. I plunged into the water, momentarily disoriented by the pain spreading across my side and chest, a question ringing in my mind: Can I breathe? Am I okay?
I emerged. People were talking, and my friends realized that I hadn’t been fully prepared to make the leap. I grabbed one of their hands, returning to the rocks and finding my bearings again, thirty feet directly below where my terror had reigned so powerfully over me.
It was a moment of pure, undeniable humility. I had made a fool of myself, trembling on the cliff and then proceeding to belly dive over the edge. There was nothing I could do but accept the decision I had just made and make the best of it.
No one cared that I hadn’t jumped well. I had done it. That’s what mattered. For one moment, I relinquished my control and let nature enjoy my presence. I gave my body to gravity, trusting the thrust of my legs to propel me past a rocky death.
More than ever, I was in the moment. I was present. That’s what it feels like to be alive, to have to make a decision instantaneously, ignoring the more negative outcomes and embracing the one positive one. It is easy to forget that these decisions face us when we spend so much time away from danger itself, in the safety of our homes enjoying a middle-class American life.
Jumping well would have been ideal, but one thing was certain: I had had no choice to jump.
I took the leap so that I could take another.
We must bear in mind in future times that very rarely are those around us on the same page. There is no clear-cut order of experiences. Age does not always govern what you have and have not experienced, and at times, you’ll find yourself oddly behind those younger than you in one line of experiences. When you find yourself there, behind, it is up to you to take a leap and decide if you’re going to stay that way, or leap towards them.