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The build-up is scarier than the fall.

Kid-Platform-Shaw-Park-PoolIt’s true that I spent the first 17 years of my life in a protected, little suburb in St. Louis, and that I was relatively shielded from urban life, or drama that extended beyond boyfriends, new cars and English papers. But, it’s also true that there were some special things about my ‘hood, things that I wouldn’t have found beyond the granite gates that fenced us in.

One of those things was the community pool – accessible to all (though not free). And we’re not talking about a little dinky pool. It was, and still is, an Olympic-sized pool with an Olympic-sized diving tank complete with regulation diving boards and platforms. Yes, platforms – because you do not want to stand on 18 inches of skinny diving board when you’re above a pool of water that looks to be about the size of your bathtub because you are so far away from it. I’m just sayin’.

Let’s put this into perspective:

  • The low diving board is 1 meter high.
  • The high diving board is 3 meters high.
  • The first platform is 5 meters high.
  • The second platform is 7.5 meters high.
  • The third, and highest, platform is 10 meters high. (which is really very, very high)

I spent my summers (before and after camp) at this pool. And, as afraid of heights as I’ve always been, I did jump off those platforms. Once.

I wanted to. I needed to. I knew it was something I had to do because when I thought about not jumping, it didn’t feel right in my body. I knew that I was being manhandled by my fear in the not jumping – and that just wasn’t who I was, (isn’t who I am). But the fear was strong. I remember the stories that flared up in my brain. If I climb up that ladder and jump, my terror told me, then:

  • I won’t have the option of turning around and climbing back down.
  • I’ll be trapped.
  • I’ll have no control.
  • I’ll freeze.
  • I’ll panic.
  • I’ll be all alone.
  • No one will help me.
  • I’ll look like a fool.
  • I’ll cry.
  • I’ll slip.
  • I’ll fall.
  • I’ll die.

Shaw-Park-Pool-Clayton-On-TThese thoughts were mean. I tortured myself with them, they tortured me by refusing to be quiet.

And then, I’m guessing with the cajoling of friends or because I was only 10 years old or because I tapped into the part of me that refuses to fail or because of all of the above, I climbed up (and up and up and up) the ladder and I jumped off.

I didn’t love the jump, and I didn’t ever do it again – but, I did it once, and I survived. And it was no where near as bad as my imaginings. None of them came true. Well, almost none of them. I was, in fact, alone…but that turned out to be okay. Like I was supposed to be alone when I jumped from this great height when, after all, the build-up of fear had also been created and endured a la solo.

And in that moment, I started to learn that the build-up is so much scarier than the actual jump.

It’s a lesson that’s hard to remember when you’re in the before/build-up phase. But when it can be recalled, it’s wonderfully comforting. Like gaping at 100 flights of stairs…and then looking over and seeing a sign for an elevator.

I wish I could send an ‘elevator’ of help to Haiti. I know times are hard for people all over the world right now, but if you have anything to spare, please text “haiti” to 90999 and make a donation to the Red Cross’s relief efforts. You can also make a donation via their website. May the pain and suffering of these people somehow be eased by the care and support of people everywhere…

Three other charities that are working to help Haiti:

Doctors Without Borders
Oxfam America
Yéle Haiti

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Alisa Bowman says:

    So. So. So. True. This inspired me. Because I’ve been scared a lot lately. And hell, it’s scarier to jump off a high dive than the wee little things I’ve lacked the courage to do. Great post.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Don’t be so hard on yourself, Alisa. It’s all relative. I had no idea about mortgages and having children that are sick with horrid coughs and fevers for the 4th time since September when I was contemplating the high dive…you know?

    Regardless, I’ll be waiting for you in the pool. Would you like a beer or a margarita?

  • Katherine Collmer says:

    Oh, yes! That was my fear exactly of simply swimming!!! I didn’t like that feeling of being afraid and I finally “learned” how to swim when I was 48 (that was last year, riiiight). And I did jump from the side of the pool into the deep end in my last lesson…with the instructor close at hand. However, I agree the feeling was great…but I only needed to do it once. Haven’t returned to the deep end of the pool since. Tee, hee, that’s ok…I did it once, didn’t I! Thanks for sharing, Julie!

  • I take the beer, thanks. I literally did turn around and crawl off a diving board on my hands and knees to the ladder. I love the rest of the pool and am a heck of a good time, but I didn’t leave anything on the diving board that I miss. Those hunks crawled out on the poolside sooner or later; just wait a bit with a 2nd beer.

  • LeAnn says:

    Reminded me so much of when I was a kid. It took me years to build up the courage to finally jump off the high dive at our city pool. I finally did it when I was 12. After that first fearful jump, it was easy. I even learned to love diving off of it… much more space for a dramatic swan dive. ;)

    I will try to remember this when I’m facing the other fears in my life. Thanks for a great post!

  • Andi says:

    I feel the same way. Procrastination takes way more energy then actually doing the thing in the first place. Also I hate public speaking, but the build up is always worse in my mind than when I am finished and I say, that wasn’t so bad!

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