Friday, June 10, 2011


When I was five or six years old, I went to a public pool for the first time. I didn't go unsupervised, but my direct supervision was loose. Loose enough that, after talking with other kids my age, I was convinced into jumping off the diving board into the deep end of the pool and no adult intervened and stopped me. I don't remember feeling any fear. I do remember hitting the water and sinking under. I remember bobbing to the surface three times only to slip back under three times. I remember being rescued by a lifeguard. I remember being ordered to stay at the shallow end of the pool. I remember spending the rest of the day there, alone.
It seems to me all of the different highlights of your life can be charted, like points on a map or a model of our solar system. The points remain stationary, separated by dates and time, but your perspective changes depending on where you have moved along the map. At different times in my life, I have reflected on that swimming pool story and focused on my lack of supervision or painted the other kids as "the bad guys." For a long time, the story was my excuse for being an uncertain swimmer or "a little uncomfortable" in the water. Nowadays, my focus is that little girl who jumped off the diving board. It would be easy for me to dismiss her as an idiot, but instead I see someone who was fearless: literally "fear less." That little girl had such a positive outlook on the world she heard not even a whisper of the possibility of negative outcome. Nowadays, I want to climb into that little girl's head and see just a glimpse of the world through her eyes.
Four or five years later, a completely different little girl, I had a poster above my bed. It had a single seagull in flight and read "Hold fast to your dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." I did not know at the time the words were taken from a Langston Hughes poem and he was not credited on the poster. By this time, I was so familiar with the possibility of a negative outcome I think the image of "a broken winged bird" was what I identified with most in the words. I don't remember how long the poster hung there, but I know I never went into my room without giving it at least a glance.
I was reminded of the other little girl, the fearless one, just today when I listened to the 21-year-old caregiver assigned to my father tell me her dreams in life and then systematically, one by one, tell me why she couldn't achieve them. I should say here: the dreams were only sketches, not definite, concrete plans detailing what she wanted and the obstacles were noted as somewhat temporary, transitory blockades. Nothing was set in stone. But nothing voiced any confidence in a positive outcome either, and as I drove home, I wondered why it is that we do that? Why do we voice a dream, if only silently, secretly to ourselves, and then shoot it down so utterly and completely? Is it because we reach a saturation point where others have shot us down often enough a need emerges just to get it over with before they get the chance to do it again? Is our need for recognition or agreement so strong that we will freely ridicule ourselves simply to be part of the crowd? After all, across the internet on Facebook and Twitter, you can watch the world bitch and moan about it being Monday and breathe a sigh of relief when it is Friday. Misery does love company.
I'm not sure what the polar opposite of misery is. Success? Happiness? Whatever it is, the first little girl had it in abundance and I'm pretty sure she had it in common with a lot of people we hold up as role models or wish we had lives like theirs. I think the only thing they have she didn't have was a little bit of knowledge. She hadn't learned yet some things don't just come naturally to you, they have to be learned. She lacked experience and a little bit of perspective, but the rest of it she had right.
Sometimes, whether the crowd is with you or not, you just need to get on the diving board and step off . .. ..