It’s been twenty—maybe thirty—years since I jumped off a diving board.
I’m not sure whether it was the sun or the extra shot of caffeine that morning, or just the end-of-summer joy of being at the pool with the kids, but this time when my kid asked if I’d jump off the diving board with her (and bless her for faith and hope in asking since I have never, not once in her life, ever said yes to this before), this time, I said yes.
I nearly chickened out a dozen times standing in the line. I was the only one more than five feet tall among the half dozen of us in the queue, all the others wet and giggling from the multiple jumps they’d already taken. I was conspicuously dry, standing there in all my adult angst, trying to visualize it all. Surely I could iron out my worries by mentally going over and over the details? I pictured climbing the rungs, the non-slip tread on the board, sucking my stomach in (this is a public pool, after all.) Would I go in feet first, or would I dive? Diving would look way cooler. What would I see as I fell? Would it seem a long way down? Or a blink? Hopefully my bikini bottom wouldn’t scroll itself off in the plunge. Would I belly flop? Would I smile? I planned it all: mentally maximizing my Mom-zen-moment.
And then all of a sudden I was at the front of the line and edging my way to the front of the diving board. “Jump, Mom!” yelled my daughter, beaming at me. I don’t know if I remembered to smile. I certainly didn’t think about my stomach.
I was suddenly deep. So deep. A thunderclap of pressure over my ears as the water closed in and my lungs protesting like two whoopee cushions in my chest. My inner mermaid panicked a little and I tilted my head up, trying to guess how much distance there was between me and the dappled light from the world above. It was probably only a second or two before my head broke the surface, but it was long enough for me to realize in shock: I’d only imagined how high the dive would be. I hadn’t thought to visualize how deep it might be. I’d mentally prepared for the jump, without any concern for the fall.
It’s often like this for me: all my emotional energy expended on the run-up, or the introduction… when the real experience actually comes after. Like spending hours and hours imagining what my wedding would be like, and being surprised at how little I’d thought about the deep, immersive dive into marriage. I’d thought about labor and delivery, but not much about what it would be like to bring a newborn home. Or imagining job interviews and first introductions at school… with little imagination for what the work and rhythms to follow would be like. I’ve imagined the airport and the getting there, but often not the trip and the being there.
I don’t know that my imagination is good enough (nor that it would be helpful) to try and visualize a little further along the journey. Even if I had given a lot of time and attention to thinking about the pressure of being deep underwater (or thrown deep into marriage for the first time), no amount of thinking is the same as the All-Systems-Go shock of living the experience. I’d read about new parents being sleep deprived, but book knowledge is NOT THE SAME as the wild wide-eyed delirium of life with a newborn. No, ma’am. I thought I knew what I was agreeing to when I first said Yes to Jesus’ invitation to trust him, but I had no idea how beautiful and scary and rich and wonderful life with him would be. Truly.
But maybe the thing for me to remember is this: beyond the Big Thing I’m gearing up for, is a next experience and a next step. There’s a Beyond beyond the thing I’m scared of. After the shock of the first day, there will be a second day and a third day when things are not so new and disorienting: open spaces for life and loving and learning. After the tumult and tension of the high dive, comes a deep dive into life. Its pressures may be unexpected, but there’s surprise and joy in the depths.