It's been nearly ten years now since my first experience with cliff jumping, but I'll never forget it. My brother and I were getting a ride home from my Grandma's up north with my adventurous uncle and his family. On the drive home everyone decided we should stop in this old town that had an abandoned mining site. The man-made canyon had filled naturally with water, creating a lake that was a few hundred feet deep and the perfect location for cliff jumping. I was all for it at first. I was a teenager: full of confidence and eager to try new things.
We made through the woods and down some sketchy-looking paths until we got to the site. First of all, it was gorgeous, but I knew right away that I made a mistake. I felt anxiety even jumping off of a level surface into the lake. It was so deep and I didn't know what lay at the bottom, a thought that terrified me. But I jumped off the level surface after a little hesitation and I survived, but I knew it wasn't going to get easier.
Next came the ten foot jump. It doesn't seem like that big of a deal and to my uncle and little brother it wasn't. Without a second thought they ran and jumped off of the small cliff like it was nothing, even jumping over the top of a tree to clear the jump. Being brave, I climbed the cliff and stood at the top. I stood there for a couple minutes and everyone else was already moving on to the next cliff. As they were getting ready to leave I made the plunge, clearing the tree and plummeting into the water. Maybe it was easier because no one was watching, but I was encouraged by bravery.
But then came the 20 foot cliff, the true challenge. Even though it was just 10 feet taller than the previous cliff it seemed like a much further fall. Again, my brother and uncle did it without hesitation. My aunt, who at first stated that she was too scared to jump took the plunge after only a minute of hesitation. Then my 7-year old cousin was up. She was a pretty brave child, but it was a scary thing. She stood at the edge for 10 minutes. We all encouraged her brave side, but told her she didn't have to if she didn't want to. She came to where she realized if she didn't do it, the cliff would have beaten her. You could see the determination in her face and then she jumped. We cheered her on, and then it was my turn.
I stood there, looking down at the water 20 feet below where my aunt and cousin were treading water, waiting for me and was paralyzed. My brother, uncle, and other cousins cheered me on. "You can do it," they told me. I had to do it, I told myself. My 7 year-old cousin had faced her fears and done it; I could do the same. But it sure didn't feel like I could. 5 minutes into my hesitation, with everyone's eyes on me, it seemed like they had given up on me. But it only seemed that way.
"Just come on, you're not going to do it," my brother remarked. That made me mad. He knew me and he should have known that even though I get scared, I have a proven track record of doing the things that scare me anyway.
"Yes, I am," I replied.
"No you're not. I'm going to count to three and if you don't go by three then you're not going to do it," he answered. How dare he? I thought. I'll show him! "One..." But I'm scared "Two..." and then I jumped.
People say the worst part is the act of jumping itself. Not true. The worst part is that moment after you jump. It lasts only a fraction of a second, but seems to take forever. That moment where you're suspended in the air and you realize there's no turning back and you have a long way left to fall. It's terrifying. So terrifying that the scream that came from me was 100% terror. After the 2 seconds it took me to fall the 20 feet, I hit the water and started propelling toward the bottom. It felt like I was never going to stop plummeting into the water, which was equally terrifying. But soon enough I did and I raced to get back to the surface as quickly as I could.
When I broke the surface I took a gasped for air and then heard the sounds of my family all cheering for me. My brother looked at me from above with a knowing smile. He knew that all it would take for me to jump was for him to insist that I wouldn't. I came to find out later in life that he had done this to me more than I ever realized. I couldn't wipe the smile off of my face. I was so proud of myself. I had done something that terrified me, but it didn't terrify me anymore because I had conquered it.
That was the only literal cliff I've jumped off of in my life, but I've jumped off of many metaphorical ones and it's a very similar experience. When you come to that cliff in life, where a new and exciting experience is waiting at the bottom, it's terrifying. You can't see all the way to the bottom; you don't know what's down there and that fear alone could be keeping you from jumping. Or maybe it's the fear of the fall itself. What if something happens to you on the way down? What if an unexpected tree branch hits you along the way? You see other people taking the plunge and you applaud your bravery, but still you can't do it. Everyone is watching you and if you fail you'll have an audience.
The truth is, not every cliff is one you're going to jump off of. I mean, if you jump without hesitation all the time it becomes a bit reckless. After all, there might be a hidden obstacle you didn't notice at first. But there are some cliffs that you need to jump off of. Something will happen that pushes you to it. Maybe you realize you're not jumping because you're being conquered by fear or maybe you do it to prove that you can. Whatever it may be, that moment will come and however long it took you to get to that point it only takes one moment to make that jump. You might be terrified at first, realizing there's no turning back as you're suspended in the air and as you fall further and further down it may not get any better. But then you stop heading toward the bottom and start rising to the top. Once you break the surface and hear those around you cheering for you, you'll realize you made it. You took the jump and came out better for it on the other side.
I'm proud to have conquered cliff jumping. I look back glad that I don't have to regret not having done it. Sure, it was only a 20 foot cliff, which is next to nothing for the recreational cliff jumper, but for me it is a feat to be proud of. I am proud of every cliff that I jump off of and you should be too. Not everyone's cliff is going to look the same and that's okay. My cliff might look higher than yours, but that doesn't mean that yours is any easier to jump off of. But be brave, friends, and take that plunge! Do you honestly think you'll regret it?