As long as I can remember, I’ve been discreetly cautious around water. I detest the icy water of a swimming pool or even the ocean before the sun has warmed the tide.
I’ve never been one to Baywatch-run into the ocean and frolic in the waves, and I watch with envy those that do. I’m the one at the swimming pool who gets in inch by inch trying to gradually get used to the water. I sometimes hear the whisper, “Just do it. Jump in.” But I argue with myself, listing all the reasons I can’t do that. I don’t want to get my hair wet, it’s too cold, or I feel fat.
I’m getting tired of the inch by inch life that weighs me down until I cannot move. I’m disgusted by my lack of adventure and cautious moves. I’m ready, I think, to embrace a more fulfilling way of life. If others can do it, why can’t I? This hesitancy is a long-ago habit that started when my mother passed away. My four-year-old mind could not fathom the loss of my mother, but her death left an imprint on my body and soul.
That’s when I began my demure misgivings. Shyness and fear took hold of me like a creeping fog from the sea, enveloping my very spirit. I didn’t hear the whisper then; I only felt the grip of an uneasy foreboding. “Shrink back,” it beckoned. “Hold back,” and so I did. It’s much easier to shrink back than to push forward. It instantly felt like a safe place to be and I began to try it with every situation. My carefree childhood came to an abrupt halt and I became wary of life in general; my maturity at a standstill.
This past summer I heard my grandchildren prodding me, “Jump in Nannie, it won’t be cold for long. Just do it!” I sat on the steps of the pool watching them splash and play, their joy out front for all to see. Where did their bravery come from? It never occurred to them to shrink back or limit their fun. I envied their unbridled joy.
As I began my slow descent inch by inch into the water, I was aware of their growing impatience with me. They stopped encouraging me and I felt the sting of disappointment from them and myself. On my deathbed will I say, “I’m so glad I didn’t get in the pool and play? I’m glad I shrunk back?” I know I will not feel that way. I fear my regret will be heavy and I will be deeply saddened that I missed their screams of delight and wet grip around my neck. I’ll ask myself why? And so, against my fearful judgment, I did jump.
I jumped for all the shrinkers who let the icy voice of fear stop them in mid-stride. I jumped to prove to myself that I could, and I jumped for that little four year old who lost her mother and was afraid of life.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a psychiatrist who was a pioneer in near-death studies, knew this very fear and spoke these wise words, “Live, so you do not have to look back and say: God, how I have wasted my life.” Never again, I tell myself. Never again will I shrink back from life, although I know there is a big chance that I might, at least a little. I have made progress and perhaps that is all I can do. It’s a good start, and today I can let that be enough.