I had this fantastic conversation about fears with a climbing buddy this afternoon and it brought me back to a memory of an event that happened this summer which I never got to share. I still get an anxious feeling at the bottom of my stomach when I remember what happened, but I suppose fear is good in that it reminds you you're alive and pushes you out of your comfort zone.
We were in Kentucky, U.S.A, for climbing. It was a blazing hot summer day in the middle of June and we had stopped for a swim break at the swimming hole in Red River Gorge. I had the idea of jumping off the giant rock before leaving. I was high off of my "just graduated university, I'm taking an impromptu road trip, now it's time to 'seize the day'" mindset.
I had climbed the 20 foot rock like everyone else and was now staring down at the lake before me. But while almost everyone easily leapt into the open and down into the water, I stopped there and couldn't make the jump.
I must have stood there for about an hour when the good people of Kentucky decided they would help me as a community to face my fear of falling.
I was determined. I had just graduated university not a month before, had came back from a month-long stay in Saskatoon, a two week solo road trip around the States, and had also recently started my first full-time job after graduating school. I wanted to add "conquered my fear of falling" to this list of accomplishments.
At first, there were one or two people (strangers) who were talking me into jumping. My friend Will stood there and held my hand, saying that we would jump together.
"3...2...1!!!" He yelled.
I never moved. He jumped in by himself and made a huge splash.
Then, the crowd decided that no one else would jump in unless I jumped first.
The crowd below, about 50 people, were chanting for me, waiting for me to make a move. I didn't know these strangers, yet all of them had the common goal of getting me jump into the water 20 feet below me.
But jumping to, what seemed at the time, my death is a lot more difficult to follow through with when I envisioned that queasy, stomach-to-the-ground feeling I had never particularly liked.
Some time passed. The sun was starting to burn my skin. Strangers who were behind me who were waiting for me to jump were starting to get impatient.
I looked down towards the lake. I knew that there wasn't a chance of me dying, that nothing bad would happen to me; yet I couldn't bring myself to walk into the open air and just jump. Mentally, I was already down there, but physically, I held back.
There was a group of teenage boys behind me. They were making eye contact and giving each other smiles, then glancing at me.
"I don't like the way you're looking at me," I told them.
They moved back into the crowd.
I didn't want to be pushed in. I wanted to have full control of my free-falling experience into the gorge. I wanted to know when I would feel that gravitational pull and I wanted to be prepared for it.
A teenage girl who spent a long time contemplating the jump, but eventually made it into the water came to talk to me.
"It's not that bad," she said, "if I can do it, you can too!"
I looked back into the water. I sat down, trying to make the distance to the pool seem as small as possible. I thought about hanging off the edge with my fingers and slipping in- the coward's way of making it into the water.
I knew I couldn't go back down the path to where I first climbed up the rock. It would be much easier to jump than endure the walk of shame and have to face the regret of not jumping later on in the car ride home.
The only answer was to jump.
A blond man in his twenties came to talk to me. He had blue eyes and a friendly face. "This is how you do it," he said.
"We'll jump in together."
I looked into his eyes. He seemed like someone I could trust, though I thought I saw a glint of something else in his eyes.
I continued to look concerned.
"You really just have to jump, that's all there is to it."
"I know, but I just hate the feeling of falling!"
"Here, watch me jump..."
He stood at the edge, a good metre away from where I sat, looking into the water.
Suddenly, I felt a hand behind my back. He gave a swift push.
Then I was in the air and falling.
I shrieked in surprise. A flash of anger washed over me.
The little bugger had tricked me! I thought I could trust him!
I plunged into the cool water, still in shock, but relieved it was finally over.
I forget this guy's name, but I will always remember the lesson he taught me. Sometimes we all need a gentle push in life to get to where we need to be. He saw that I was stuck and though I hated him in the short run for abusing my trust, in the end, what he did was best for everyone. I could finally go home and everyone else could finally jump off the cliff without waiting for me.
Sometimes, I still wish I could have jumped off the cliff by myself without anyone's help, but I'm not even sure if that could have even happened that afternoon. This experience taught me that you don't have to be independent all the time. Sometimes, you can lean into the community for help and depend on others to push you towards growth.
Also, never ever trust a blue-eyed boy with a loopy grin.
Here is the video of me being pushed into the water: