I stood at the top of the cliff trying to work up the guts. It could be done, had already been done by others. But one could also slip on the rock and not get the distance required to clear the pregnant, jagged outcropping. One could misinterpret her strength and pay dire consequences for doing so.
You may be wondering, why not just walk away, like Jesus did? First off, I often fall short of Jesus’ example.
Second, when I was young, I was a gymnast. Facing fear was part and parcel, especially when throwing a trick unspotted for the first time. None of us wanted to attempt the newly required high beam back-walkover, which drove our coach to unexplored heights of frustration. Throat-bleeding screams of mother-prefaced slurs and the creative expletives only pure rage can inspire…none of it moved us to just do it.
A back-walkover on the high beam doesn’t seem like such a big deal? (Neither did that cliff till I stood at the top.) But imagine standing on a four-inch-wide beam four feet off the ground, hands over your head. Then back bend behind you and place your hands on the beam. Oh, and don’t balk. Balking can kill you. Knowing there’s a hand on the small of your back is all the difference. You’ve done it spotted a hundred times. But take away the coach’s hand…have her watch from a few feet away, arms angrily crossed, tapping her foot, demanding you not be a chicken…that’s the same feeling I had on top of the cliff, and I still hear Coach in my head: Don’t be a chicken. Either I do it, or I die a little inside. Thank you, gymnastics.
Five years ago, I went on a church-sponsored trip to South Dakota. I had some health problems and felt generally like Cinderella when she had no gown. But we can’t let these things sideline us from doing good, right? During the trip, we stopped at a national park. My son and the other youth were clambering up this cliff and jumping off like grasshoppers. The catch? Once up there, the only way down was to jump. It had an outcropping to clear as well. I searched inside myself… and came up short. To this day, I regret not jumping. I want to get in my car, drive the 22 hours to South Dakota, and jump off that cliff.
Which was why I didn’t let this opportunity slip by. That, and also because of my brother.
Most people know Matthew 4:8. It went something like this:
Satan: If you’re the real deal, you can jump off this roof. You won’t even stub your toe.
Jesus: (scoffs) Do I look like a bird to you? Only an idiot tempts God.
First, some circus-freak jumped off the cliff. Then my 13-year-old nephew. Then my 45-year-old brother. Even my son.
I waved it away, pretending I wasn’t petrified, just uninterested.
“Huh. I finally outdid you,” remarked my brother.
Two minutes later I was at the clifftop having an earthquake of the soul, noting the far, far outcropping. My own son had stood for many minutes getting up the courage to jump. Another nephew, sweet and too young to even consider the leap said, “You shouldn’t do it, as old as you are.”
The moment I become too old to do something is the moment I’m too dead to do it.
I know it was dumb. I could’ve slipped on the wet rock during the ever-so-critical launch. As it happened, I leaped without incident, cleared the outcropping, and plunged into the murky water, getting a blast up my left nostril. I’m talking a firehose power-wash of the sinuses and frontal lobe.
Have you ever heard of Naegleria fowleri? He lives in freshwater. A few years ago, a girl from Ohio went whitewater rafting, and when the raft overturned, got a nose-full. A week later she was dead. The Naegleria is a brain-eating amoeba. If he gets inside, he always wins. He’s rare, but so are rocks that turn into growing brain tumors. I figured I was a goner. This is what hypochondria looks like, for those unfamiliar…
I deserved to have my small and (obviously) under-used brain eaten for jumping off that cliff. What did I prove?
- I’m reckless.
- I’m still hopelessly locked in competition with my “little” brother at 48 years old.
- My judgment doesn’t need alcohol to be impaired.
- You can get me to do anything simply by telling me I’m too old to do it.
I was thinking about how the motivation gurus tell us we have to “jump,” that this jump is doing the thing we fear, whatever the thing is. It could be writing a book or a poem. It could be a confession of love or trying for a promotion at work. Heck, it could just be giving something your absolute all. You can sweat drops of blood over something and it STILL doesn’t succeed. Then everybody sees you’ve got blood all over your face, a big disgrace…(you’re hearing Queen, too).
As a writer I speak from experience. Permit me this small tangent:
Cinderella gets to the ball, in her fabulous pumpkin-turned-carriage (underneath our sparkle is rags and gourds). Cinderella doesn’t just stroll right in. Noooo. The bouncer asks for her ID. She explains the government still has the passport she ordered in February because of COVID and everything is shut down and they still have her flippin’ birth certificate, “But look, I have this fabulous carriage, this gown, these glass slippers. Surely they’re ID enough?”
The bouncer, a grouchy man with a case of loose stools, shakes his head. “Sorry. No ID. No entrance.”
While still in the parking lot outside the ball, Cinderella notices a hot young guy, also turned away at the door. He’s not dejected. He’s pissed. She likes that sass in a man.
“Hey, want to dance?” she asks. They can hear music drifting out, soft as it is.
He takes in her and her idea, considering both with a charming side grin. From his own eggplant-turned-Trans Am, he pulls a portable speaker that blasts “Fireball.” Cinderella and Pitbull begin to line dance right there in the parking lot. They do the Electric Slide and the Chicken Polka. The townspeople join them. Soon it looks like the last scene of Dirty Dancing or Grease or any Broadway musical. Midnight comes and goes and nobody even notices the gourds and rags are back, that’s how much fun they’re having on the parking-lot-turned-dance-floor.
Heck with this horror thing. I should write fairy tales.
Cinderella did her “jump” (okay she showed up with the aid of magic). But when that didn’t pan out, something else did. Doing one hard thing translates into doing other hard things.
Jesus didn’t need to jump off the cliff because that wasn’t what he came to do. I probably didn’t need to jump, either; there are other “jumps” for me. They mostly have to do with writing and publishing.