Summer, sometime in the early 90's, in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho. I was a little boy, probably eight or nine, watching people scale the colossal high dive at the Olympic swimming pool. I cannot over exaggerate how huge this structure appears to someone who is barely taller than three and a half feet themselves, or how much it terrified me. You had get your parents to sign a waiver before they even let you near the ladder. There were rumors floating around the shallow end of the pool that last summer someone died.
And yet, these two little kids, audacious as it was, repeatedly scaled the ladder and hurled themselves from the lofty precipice without even the decency to look nervous. They had a routine. They'd climb the ladder, walk past the jittery teenagers who were clinging to the handrails on the top platform, and then jump, hand in hand, into infinity. I am pretty sure they are the only reason I even tried the thing in the first place.
I wasn't alone when I finally climbed the ladder. Randon went first. We meant to jump together but I chickened out, and I watched him disappear over the edge, alone. While I was hesitating the kids came and went, probably more than a few times. Finally I stopped the smaller one and asked him how he did it.
"You just start going toward the edge, and keep walking, and don't look down." This was stated as though it was fairly simple.
So I walked. If my feet had consulted my head, I never would have taken the last step. But, like a baby learning to walk, who is driven to venture away from the safety of the coffee table's edge time and time again in spite of broken lip after bruised head, because still the primordial urge to stand and step says move and he must, I stepped. And suddenly I was falling. For a moment, I was torn between exhilaration and terror. I plummeted three stories and slapped into the water. It hurt. But still, I couldn't help but think, that wasn't so bad.
After that, I was one of those little kids. Over and over again I ran up the ladder, strode confidently past terrified men and women twice my age and size, off the edge of comfort and safety and into sweet oblivion.
That still works. Fear is a state of mind, so if you don't think about it, it doesn't exist. Often when I am afraid of doing some thing, I take a few steps and think about something else, and suddenly I'm there and its too late to turn back. I've noticed when I am finally face to face with my fears, they seem deflated. It's like when you're deprived of the anxiety of preoccupation, you realize that girls are just people, potential employers are only human, and 33.5 ft really isn't that high. After a few times over the edge, so to speak, we realize that we are no longer children in a world of adults, but equals, and those whom we inwardly admire and emulate, those strangers that we idealize, and even those with whom we share our lunch are in every way our peers. At some point, we must realize that our differences are not aberrant deviations from the norm, but acceptable and even admirable variations on the theme that is humanity. And even if we are in some way less matured than those around us, does that render us incapable or valueless? No, in fact, it makes our accomplishments that much more meaningful.