16 August 2010

Arc of a diver

Sun burning on my shoulders and back. Damp cling of wet bathing suit. Sandpaper surface of the diving board rough under my wet feet, not precisely painful since I'd built up the summer callous that came from running barefoot everywhere.

The vista was endless from that vantage point, the top of the high dive. The Catalina mountains were stark and clear to my left, granitic outcroppings mocking with the faces I always saw in the rock surface, dreamed came alive in my worst nightmares. In front of me, the Rincons shimmered in the heat haze.

My toes curled stubbornly around the edge of the diving board.

I don't know why it's so important to certain children to challenge others to do frightening, potentially dangerous things. Are they holding up a mirror to their own insecurity, trying to establish their own superiority? Why did children like me answer the challenges of scrawny, ugly little bullies like JB?

Eventually, I would have found my own way up there, without the intervention of JB and his mocking assurances that I was too cowardly to jump off the high dive. Generally, I find my own level, and am perfectly capable of rising to the challenges I issue myself, which tend to be far more difficult than anything anyone else can come up with.

But I stood there, 12 feet above the water, about to jump into 12 feet of water, knowing I couldn't swim.

It wasn't for lack of lessons. I had those. And physically, I was quite capable of other athletic feats, but there was an unfortunate juxtaposition of arms, legs, torso and water that left me flummoxed. It just didn't work. While others glided effortlessly through the inner space of water, I flailed, failed, sank.

So I stood there, pushing my wet hair out of my face, hair that was hot in its own right from the intense summer temperatures, and I contemplated the deep blue below.

I'd said nothing when JB loudly spat out, "You'd never jump off the high dive!" I just marched over to the tall aluminum ladder and started climbing, knowing that once I was up there, there was only one way down.

Inevitable. I love that word, and it plays such an enormous part in my life. I think, sometimes, that I am making choices, but what I do is often inevitable, because I knew before I was offered the choice what my course of action would be, though I pay lip service to the process of thinking it through. And sometimes, the choice has already been made for me; I follow the course of action already laid out.

Oh, I could have given into fear that hellishly hot day, walked back along the diving board and climbed back down the ladder. It was a course of action. But it wasn't an option.

Instead, I jumped.

That was inevitable.

Hurtling off the end of the board, I squeezed my eyes closed and could only wait to hit the water. I did, inevitably, and it was hard and it was cold, and my body rushed down, down, down through the blue depths, ears filled with pressure, filled with water, platinum bubbles shooting up all around me. From the bottom of the deep end, I looked up, and saw beams of sunlight shooting through the waves and ripples I'd left in my wake on the surface so far above my head. My lungs felt like they'd burst, with the joy of accomplishment, with lack of air.

I broke through the surface of the water, gasping, triumphant.

I took plenty more dives off the high dive after that, of course. Once the quantity of the unknown was removed, I could enjoy the experience, running off the board, cannonballing off the board, even diving off the board, which one time turned into a less-than-magnificent belly flop, leaving me with an enormous, angry red mark on my belly. That, too, was probably inevitable. Even belly flops are part of the process.

For weeks now, I've battled indecision and obstruction. The indecision, naturally, was my own, and the obstruction came from everywhere. The more indecisive I became, the greater and more numerous were the obstructions, which only lead to more indecision (and a great deal of whining) on my part. Over the weekend, I coaxed myself back up the ladder, one more time, and then realized I was being ridiculous. I gave myself the night to sleep on it (which, let me tell you, has never made one iota of difference in a decision I was making. Inevitable!), and this morning I placed a phone call.

And I jumped.

Oh, I've done this before, and I can make a million excuses why this time was different, but it boils down to a single variable that always exists here, the one unknown that keeps me on edge.

I'm not a child anymore, and I remind myself that I can deal with fear. I work with variables and unknowns all the time, and they can be easily put into perspective. I can't look for obstructions and risk missing the magic. I haven't the leisure to stand there, toes curling obstinately around the diving board, contemplating 12 feet of air plus 12 feet of water, and what again, exactly, is it that happens after I've plunged through 24 feet of space? I still can't swim, but I know, from experience, that I might flail (and oh, have I) but I can do what is required to get back to the surface, I can do what is asked, I can do what I want, even if it is awkward and ungraceful. I will work it out.

I do hold on; sometimes, that is all one can do. But sometimes, you have to jump.

From this vantage point, the vista is not so expansive. Time is short. Life is short, and I want to make the most of what I have, of what is offered, of what is available, while I still can.

Go listen to some good music: "Arc of a Diver" from the album Arc of a Diver by Steve Winwood. While you see a chance, take it. Oh, I've spent plenty of time second-guessing myself, filling the air with loud "What have you dones?" But really? Inevitable.

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