When I was sixteen I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and jumped — off Olympic Park’s high dive — into twelve feet of water far below. I still have no idea why. I’d never jumped off a high dive before; never particularly wanted to do. I was scared, sure, but once I found myself up there, towering above my friends — and the cute, though nameless blonde lifeguard off to my left — I jumped.
Except that I was 16 and female, I might have looked something like this young man:
Weeeeeeeee. From where I sit now, that does look like such fun. But back then I was riddled with fear. Yet, I jumped.
High dives have appeared metaphorically throughout my life. I don’t look for them. I don’t seek thrills, particularly. Indeed, I’d sum up my life more as a quest for security than adventure. But, while only that first jump was into a pool of water, a pattern is clear.
I seem unable to recognize a high dive from afar.
With each jump, I dutifully climb up the ladder, one foot in front of the other, blinded by love, determined to persevere, hell bent on doing the right thing, or just plain curious. Whatever the push, up I go, unaware that I’m even climbing a ladder until I gaze around from the top, surprised.
These jumps have, at various times, been filled with excitement, impatience or fear, but always there is the fixed belief that going back is not an option.
Whether I find myself at the edge of an actual diving board, in a job I no longer love, or the end of an empty marriage — all borders between old and new, familiar and strange — my default mode is to step forward, off and down into whatever comes next.
I’m sure I won’t die, that’s first; the water is always deep enough and I know I can swim. But how I will land, where I will land, and — the biggie — why the hell I’m jumping in the first place remained a mystery for most of my life.
I’ve never done a cost-benefit analysis and I can’t recall writing a single list of positives and negatives for any decision I’ve ever made.
Such was the case when my husband and I went into the Peace Corps in 2004.
This may not look like me jumping off a high dive, but it certainly was. Here’s my husband Woody and me at the airport on our way to Kazakhstan, June 2004. Trust me, this was a jump.
And such is the case today, with the launching of my blog. Off I go. Weeeeeeeeee.
How do you look at the high dives — the choices you’ve made to jump into something new, something unknown — in your life? What high dives have you jumped from? Have you ever turned around and climbed back down the ladder? Ever wish you had?
Great post! I felt like that when I went to my first writer’s conference and when I started my blog. I have never been brave enough to make the leap to do something as amazing as the Peace Corps in another country. Happy New Year!
Hi Diana, How nice to find you here. Thanks for stopping by and reading my first blog. Thanks too for sharing that starting a blog can be scary. Here’s to the new year, that I find myself swimming again. You are my muse.
You’re off to a flying start!
I think it’s those unanticipated, unplanned leaps — the ones you haven’t agonized over — that turn out to be the best ones!
Thanks so much for stopping by, Frank. May we all find a few unplanned leaps in our lives during the new year.
Woo hoo! Congrats on plunging into the blogosphere. That photo of the boy jumping off the high dive is perfect!
Hi Lynn, I know. I loved that picture the first time i saw it. And I got really lucky that I was able to contact his mother who, it turns out, is a professional photographer. She’s got a great website too. Thanks for stopping by. I really appreciate it.
Congrats on your first blog post! And what a great topic. I think at one point in our lives we’ve all stood on the edge of that high dive, knees trembling, the water below looking so…darn…far. I’ve often wondered what happened to the poor children who turned around and climbed back down the ladder instead of jumping. Did the child ever find the courage to jump later? One can only hope.
Hi Lynn, That’s a really interesting hypothesis to test: does the willingness to jump at (say) age X lead to an increased willingness to jump at age XXX? I would imagine it very likely does. Thanks for stopping by.
Looks great, Janet!
You are most excellent in the arena of jumping. I still marvel at how brave it was of you and Woody to join the Peace Corps and move to Kazakhstan. Braver than I!
As long as I can land feet first I’m OK. Never was much for diving into anything head first. I wonder how far I can stretch this metaphor. Thanks for swinging by. Appreciate it. (still working out a few kinks).
Hey Mel, You just gave me an idea for next week’s blog. THANK YOU SO MUCH
Kelly Boyer Sagert
My first thought was that many of my big decisions in life were somewhat of a jump off the ladder. I didn’t sit down and figure out the pros and cons of going to college, getting married when I did, of having children when I did and so forth. They just made sense and so . . . I did them. (Don’t regret any of them, fortunately!)
My second thought is that, throughout my career, my most well-planned attempts at a change, my most carefully presented publishing proposals and so forth generally failed. Those that worked well were often those that I didn’t plan so meticulously; they were certainly set in motion by something that I did, but not with strategic intent.
So, what does that mean?!?
Hi Kelly. How very apt that we meet up here. [Everybody: I first met Kelly when she taught a WD workshop on memoir writing. Listen to her; she’s great. And, she knows all about boomerangs.] So, Kelly: you made me smile when you mentioned jumping off a ladder. I pictured someone (not you) standing on a little step ladder, peering down in fear. Or was it an orange crate? I never thought about the importance of the height before. It just was what it was back in NJ’s Olympic Park. Frankly, I see you jumping off lots of high ones, especially this past year; and over the next few weeks. Isn’t it great to remember how well you swim!
I also smiled when you mentioned how your ‘best laid plans’ often (don’t) work out. Reminded me of the old adage, “Man plans; God laughs.” Thanks
I was glad to jump with you, and I don’t regret it, but I did land a lot harder, yet ironically made a smaller splash.
So many times it is the accidental or indirect results that end up wonderful. Just recently, we and our fellow singers in Continua discovered that we made a beautiful musical sound by not “performing.” Instead, we listened — to the person we were singing for and to ourselves — and the result was magical.
Hi Woody, Here’s to beautiful music together forever. Great dinner tonight too, btw.
Pauline Baird Jones
Welcome to the pond! The water is great! (I hate heights, so my metaphors are different, but emotions are the same!)
Thanks Pauline. Nice to see you here. Your BLOG link doesn’t connect, btw. Any thoughts? My end or yours? Diana’s (first above) connects. Might as well get as many kinks worked out as I can.
Great blog post! I love the photo of the boy jumping off the high dive. That picture terrifies me. I could never jump off the high dive. I’d climb up there and stand, look down and say, no way!
I remember the day my son got over his fear of the high dive. He was taking private swim lessons and every lesson he’d get to the top and stare, then back down. He did this for weeks and the day he finally jumped, everyone at the pool, the life guards, the swimming instructors all gathered around and encouraged him. He finally jumped. The applause and cheers went up as he headed for the water. When he came up the cheers continued. He was elated. He jumped regularly off the high dive after that. Seeing him conquer that fear, one that I never could, was so special to me. He was my hero, that day.
Hi Joy, So very fun to find you here. Did you see Lynn’s post up above? What you’ve said really speaks to that. I would imagine that your son’s audience really REALLY helped him in the long run, as well as in that moment. What a wonderful memory for him to carry with him. I’ve long believed that courage is “feeling the fear and doing it anyway.” Your son learned he can survive the doing, even if he is afraid.
Kelly Boyer Sagert
Good point! Thank goodness I can swim . . .
You did it and look at all the great comments already on your very first post..weeee!! Love the diving metaphor. It reminds me of the quote by Goethe that I used for my very first post:
” Whatever you can do or dream, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
Great job. It makes me want to know more about you and your book. I’m excited to have you do a guest post for my blog. 🙂
Hi Kathy, thank you so very much for visiting my blog post today. I can definitely say I’ve enjoyed this first round very much. I look forward to talking more with you as we prepare for my guest blog for you in April. ‘thanks again.
Great dive into blogging! The tone is inviting and the topic is one to which we all can relate. Sounds very suspiciously like high concept, don’t you think?
Never having been a swimmer nor lover of heights, I have managed to stay curious. Now, as a sexagenarian, I plan to rediscover swimming for I live in close proximity to a pool, sans high dive. Your post has me anticipating summer.
Well done, Janet.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Karen. Swimming is a great form of exercise, especially for us sexygenarians. :). I highly recommend it.
I see the twin emotions of anticipation and fear in the eyes of both of you. As a matter of fact, I started blogging at the end of February 2013. We’ve both come a long way since then. Wow!
Hi Marian. Funny, I have no memory at all of feeling fear. Just eager anticipation and excitement— they sound redundant. A little healthy fear would have been appropriate!!
Janet Givens recently posted…Cultivating Empathy: My Journey to Understand