I’ve never liked water, but I like metaphors, so there I am, a fussy cat sitting on the deck dipping my toes in the pond. The deck is covered in blistering spots with the green paint coming off, and I peel at the thick chips while she and all her brothers splash around in the water and tease me. I say I can’t swim very well. They’ve all seen me swim before, so this doesn’t fly.
The depth of the pond makes me nervous, but this isn’t enough to stop me. After all, I can awkwardly paddle my arms about in a way that passes as swimming and keeps me afloat. The water is a bit cold, but I know that my body will adjust to this in just a minute. The sun is scorching above our heads, and I can feel a bead of sweat trailing down the back of my neck. I’m made of water — it’s not the water that scares me.
I won’t be self-aware enough to articulate this for another decade, but it’s the moment of impact. The dread of hitting the water, knowing I’ll be awash in an entirely new environment and temperature so quickly that my senses will go reeling. It won’t matter that I’ll adjust, that I know I’ll adapt. I’m still paralyzed with fear at that sudden change that runs through the body from toe to head. That second of shock, the clamp of cold hands enveloping my entire frame and squeezing.
When given a beach, I wade in slowly. Slumping through the water, my arms folded up on my chest as friends flip around much farther in. And I tip-toe towards depth, like an astronaut bouncing forward on the lunar surface. Careful, purposeful.
But often it’s just a deck high above the pond’s surface, or a ladder that drops into a pool. I’ll pace back and forth, back and forth, my feet suctioning to the damp surface as my friends and cousins laugh and splash and dive down. They all ran and jumped in immediately while I paddled over puddles to peer over the edge.
Decades later I’ll find myself on dry land far more often. There’s too much work to be done, and no one owns a pool anymore because we don’t own houses. We’re far too saddled with debt. But as I sit completely dry at the table, clacking away at a laptop, I wonder how much the dread of impact has to do with my perceived failures.
All that time pacing in front of an opportunity, fearing the change of total submersion. It’s an awful lot of time to waste. I wonder, how much time have I wasted? Is life just a series of opportunities, moments of jumping off the deck and into the water, and is that blithe bravery the key to success?
I do jump. I do — but it takes a moment. A lot of moments, of building myself up and bracing myself for change. Is too much time lost?
I’m still trying to figure out what it means to be successful, and as I spend too much time thinking and piecing things together, I can tell you at least that I’ve jumped enough times that I can be quicker, braver, more rash when presented with a pool on a hot summer day. I’m braver, if only by a little bit.
I can shut off my brain, and jump.