When I was no older than a second grader, I jumped off of a diving board for the first time.
Well, to say I jumped is a bit of an exaggeration. First I walked, then I tried to jump but got scared. Eventually, after holding up the line of other eager campers for long enough, I sat down on the low dive and dangled my feet over the edge.
I was a tall kid, my legs could almost touch the water from my spot on the edge but that didn’t keep me from being afraid. It didn’t keep me from being afraid as I fell, but as soon as my head was submerged under the pool water, I knew I’d conquered my fear.
I don’t know if anybody who cheered for me was cheering because I had done what I thought was impossible or because they were excited that I wasn’t hogging the diving board anymore but I remember the serendipitous feeling of knowing that I was courageous, even if it was for doing something that every other camper had already mastered.
When I was eleven I made every excuse not to leave the house. I focused on giant coloring pages, video games, and counting the time between cartoons to entertain me, but the feeling of grass on my feet or the sun on my face were not experiences I would partake in that summer. I was still too young to spend an entire day by myself, but my refusal to join summer camps left me alone with two very bored babysitters. They were 16 and wanted anything but to be trapped in my small, hot apartment from 8:30-5. As they would beg me to find interest in some activity, I would spout out reasons why they were unsafe, unsanitary, unreasonable, or unallowed. Looking back on it now a trip to Chili’s wouldn’t kill me, nor would going to see a movie.
It took half of that summer before I was persuaded outside, promised a free meal and all the time I wanted to spend inside if I endured 45 minutes at a restaurant with my babysitter. Leaving the house was like sliding off of that diving board. In hindsight it was an easy task with no inherent risk, but in the moment it was like asking me to grow wings and fly. I survived the meal at Chili’s, and slowly began to try new things because of it. By the time I entered sixth grade, I could at least get to school without difficulties.
The summer after sixth grade, one year after I had refused to leave the house, I spent many days with a friend of mine in another city to visit my grandmother. Everyday we would get a ride from my mom to the community center pool where along the back of the property line there were three olympic sized diving boards, one high dive, and one low dive just like the one I’d first slid off in summer camp years before. After three tries off the high dive, my friend had dared me to graduate from the low dive I had been favoring. I named my price, and would only jump off of the high dive if she went off of the olympic diving boards.
While I did not spend twenty minutes standing atop this diving board, it did take two or three times of just climbing up there, staring at the water, and promptly climbing back down before I finally jumped. Just as before, I was faced with the overwhelming joy of doing something I didn’t think I could do.
The closer my departure date to Amsterdam comes, the more time I spend reflecting on these moments. I have spent seven years dreaming of the day I would get to explore another part of the world, but as it comes closer to reality the more I realize that this is not the low dive or a ride to chili’s. This adventure is the top step of the olympic high dive.
Running errands for last minute necessities with my dad is like jumping off the low dive, making lists of what to pack with my family is like going to Chili's. Every step is just slightly more difficult to get through without the prickly feeling of fear crawling up my spine and lodging its way into the back of my mind. Every day that passes is another step up to the top of the Olympic diving board.
I won’t have all the time in the world to stop and ponder if I’ll make the jump. I’ve already made up my mind. I am running up the diving board and come my departure day I am going to jump without hesitation. I have spent my life practicing for this moment. Jumping off the low dive taught me that I can do what I didn’t believe I could, the dinner at Chili’s taught me that I can push the boundaries and I will survive, the high dive taught me that I can fall and get back up. This might be my biggest challenge but I am ready. I only have a few steps left before I dive off on my biggest adventure yet.
Am I terrified? Yes, but I have also never been more excited. In just a few short weeks I will be jumping into the unknown and forcing myself to get comfortable with my fears. If I feel like I’m free falling for the entirety of my stay, I will be alright with that because when it is over I will get back up and be met with the same feeling of euphoria I’ve had before.
Amsterdam, here I come!