I was fifteen years old when I jumped off a cliff. It was a camp thing and the cliff was more of a very large boulder. I think there were about twenty feet from the top to the water below. From the beach I watched others jump and it looked fun. The view from the top was a different story. Yet I knew it was likely my last summer at this particular camp. Leaping let one enter the realm of the brave. Then I could be one of those who told others what it was like. If I did not leap, I would never know. So I walked to the edge. I contemplated. I stood back and prepared myself for the run up to jumping. One had to run so that the momentum would carry you out and into the deep water. I stood there, prepared to jump, for quite a long time. Others took turns before me and I watched them run, jump, and disappear over the edge. The splash and laughter would follow in only seconds. I took several large breaths. The muscles in my legs propelled me forward and the edge of the cliff came closer at an alarming rate. In the instant that I was to plant my foot and leap, some animal instinct in the back of my brain took control of my muscles. My legs froze. I suddenly knew that jumping off a cliff was crazy and completely at odds with physical survival. The momentum carried me over, not in a triumphant leap, but in a forward plunge. I was certain I was going to die. I was too close to the rock. The water was too far. What had ever possessed me to do such a thing? I do not remember the water striking my feet, but I do remember it closing over my head and the feel of the bubbles as they skittered over my skin toward the surface. That moment lasted a long time as I went deeper into the water. Then I began to rise, my limbs moved again, striking toward the surface. I splashed back into daylight, honestly surprised to be alive and uninjured.
Today I finally recognized why I am afraid when I contemplate going on a writer’s retreat. It is that moment with one foot planted on the edge of the cliff, water below me, but knowing that all my forward momentum is going to carry me over. It is that split second in which I think “Wait. I’m not ready for this” only it is already too late for me to stop. I recognize it because I’ve experienced it many times between now and when I was fifteen. The most memorable being the moment I realized that I was pregnant with my first child. I should take comfort, I suppose, in the fact that I did survive the leap off the cliff. It was even good for me. I have a story to tell based on extremely vivid memory. The parenting thing has turned out extremely well thus far. I like my kids. This bodes well for the writing retreat. Now that I’ve identified the fear, it does seem less. But fear is not logical and instinct tells me that the action I am taking could cause me harm. That is scary, but it will not stop me from leaping. Only time will tell if this is like cliff jumping, which I’ve never done again, or like parenting, which continues to be a daily part of my life.
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