Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Unpleasantness of Being Brave

I learned how to swim before I could walk. Water is the most calming force in my life. When I was in second grade my class got free swim lessons. Our district secured a grant for all of us to take swim lessons and diving lessons. I was ecstatic at the prospect. I was in my element during the swimming portion of the lessons. I felt competent and committed in the way that you only can when engaged in an activity that you were made to do. Then came the diving portion of the lesson.

This pool was Olympic regulation and the highest diving board seemed to me to be larger than any building I'd ever seen. I was selected to be the first to "dive off" the highest platform. Really what this meant is that the diving teacher would pick me up, tell me to stay straight as a pencil, and drop me into the water. I was selected because of my confidence in water. I climbed the board feeling a great sense of anticipation and excitement. Then I looked down. All of a sudden I felt Ike I was going to vomit. My body wanted to be as far away from the edge as humanly possible and as low to the ground. I knew that something major was at risk. I knew that by jumping I was risking something and it petrified me. What was interesting though was that I quickly realized that I could also not climb down the ladder without losing something. The whole class was watching and furthermore climbing down a ladder once you've realized how high you are is almost as scary as jumping off the board into the water. I had this acute sense of anger at myself for climbing onto the board thinking, "I could have just stayed on the ground where God intended me to be. I could be in the third row behind the other kids hiding out awaiting some other classmate's jump."

The diving teacher came and took my hand and said, "You do not have to jump, but I promise you that you will be okay and you'll always remember that before anyone else you jumped off the high dive. You'll remember that you were brave. You seem brave to me." I am sure that in that moment I did not seem brave, but I took his hand and let him hoist me over the board. I hung there little legs straight as a board. Before I knew it I whizzed through the air and was in the water. The impact reddened my legs and lit up my spirit. I felt like I had done something big. I knew that I had done something for myself. The decision was two-fold. I climbed the ladder and I made the jump.

Today I was reminded of this story. I had a conversation that has been at least a year and a half in the making. I found myself on the brink of bringing it up then would become ill. At one point I realized that I had already climbed the board. I could jump or I could do the labor intensive work of climbing down. I climbed up to the board the first time I shared something real about myself with this person. I took another step up the ladder when I began to regard their opinion highly. I took the next step when I began loving them. I realized that I've been on the board for a long time. For a moment I imagined that I might be able to climb down without anyone noticing. I no longer have a host of second graders bearing witness to my shame. I realized though that I have become my own second grade class bearing witness to myself. There is no hiding from yourself when you've decided to drop pretenses. I jumped. I brought up the dreaded topic. When I hit the water it stung and I was proud of myself for it. Who knows what will come of this recent small and specific act of abandon. What needs to unfold will.

Today I was reminded that we are never jumping alone even when we feel alone. We always have love hoisting us over the board. There is a choice. We can decide to never climb up the ladder. We can decide to climb back down. We can jump. After quite some time of living in fear of the climb and of the jump I am pleased to share that I remembered that I climb the ladder. I was reminded that I jump.

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