Saturday, November 30, 2013

Cliff Jumping

A friend and I were embroiled in a debate a few days ago. Frustrated with life, he indicated he just wanted to wash his hands of something…”be done with it” he spurted.
“That is not what you really want”, I told him. “You need to try again”.
“Why?” He retorted back. “Why? When you know you’ll probably fail?  When you know it will be painful? …Would you jump off a cliff, If you knew you could be hurt? Of course not!” His frustration grew like a hot blister.

I wanted to wait for his anger to subside but before I knew it an answer had spilled out of my mouth.
“I jump off cliffs all the time”. He turned to look at me and I began to explain a philosophy I did not know I had.

Here is what I think about jumping off cliffs:

I jumped off a cliff every time I had one of my children. I did it every time I left them for work or the store or a night on the town. Later I did it when I encouraged them as they left me.  I jumped off a cliff when I agreed to a divorce that I did not want, but needed. I jumped off a cliff when I remarried, bringing a new person into my life and the lives of my children, exposing us to more potential heartbreak in the quest for balance and love. I jumped off a cliff when I got a new dog after vowing to never go through the heartache of putting another one down again. 

I do it when I ask hard questions, face hard truths and then take hard actions on faith, friendships, family and myself. I leap every time I extend trust, or believe without evidence, or forgive without strings. And, many days I am afraid. Afraid of losing, of not being good enough, of not being loved. But most times I am simply afraid that in leaping I'll get hurt.

Still, I jump then free fall all the time. Most of us do.

Some might call it stupid; risking pain for a fleeting chance to fly. I prefer to think it is courageous. I admire those that leap into the unknown, sure to face uncertainty and possibly even catastrophe; willing to do it for love, compassion, growth, fun or simple understanding. Willing to accept the chance that any bliss found will not last forever. Still, we walk to the edge and step off.  Hope our only safety net.

I have not always felt this way.

The day I turned 6 my parents took me and a group of my friends to a popular sledding hill. We were excited as we trudged upward donned in our mittens and scarves and billowy coats. The moment we arrived at the top, each of my friends jumped onto their red plastic disks and flew down the hill. Some went on their stomachs, others on their knees. A few laid all the way back and watched the clouds whiz by as they whooshed down the icy hill.

I stood at the top listening to their peals of laughter and screeches of joy. Yet, I was paralyzed by fear. Friend after friend tried to coax me onto my sled. My parents offered to ride with me but I shook my head, No! My feet sank deeper into the freezing snow and hot tears turned into icicle's and streamed down my frosty cheeks. 

My parents and friends hiked up the hill time and again. Each time stopping to ask me if, "I was ready now?" Time and again, I shook my head and whispered a silent no.  With a shrug of a shoulder, a smile and a wave, they bounded on their sleds again and plummeted into the abyss.

It took me years to understand what I learned on that day.  We can avoid risk; hold tight to our safe zones, but in doing so we don’t typically avoid pain. As I stood there I missed a few scrapes and bumps only to wallow in the pain of fear and failure. I learned something else too. Despite climbing the hill twenty times, despite falling and rolling and sometimes even bleeding, my friends were energetic, alive and confident. I on the other hand, felt tired, defeated and weak. 

If you want to see in yourself courage and strength…  If you want to live instead of just endure…  If you want to know the depth of love...the release of forgiveness or the heights of exhilaration…

Step up to the edge.  Take a deep breath.  Spread your wings, and leap.

Photo courtesy of TutuWon : Jumping in the Beach/Saltando en la Playa