I remember summers at the Stratford Landing pool in Alexandria, Virginia. I remember that one afternoon when I climbed up the ladder, walked down the board, and jumped off that high dive.
I sunk deep into the water, into the kind of deep that presses against you and squeezes your insides and squeals in your ears. I wriggled up to the surface, proud and older.
The first key to high dive jumping is in the choice not to hesitate. For that split second, you could allow yourself to consider how afraid you are, how none of this makes sense, and how you might just drown. For that split second, you could slow down your pace, grab the railings, and begin the frozen stance that leads to retreat. You can’t hesitate.
But the second key to any good high dive situation is the reality that nobody is allowed to climb back down the steps. Climbing down was dangerous, slippery, and bound to create some kind of disaster in the life of the poor soul already beginning his climb up because he’s certain it’s his turn. The lifeguards and onlookers always cheered and reprimanded: “You can do it!” combined with “No going down the ladder!”
In this pool, on this high dive, you jump. You don’t hesitate, and you cannot go back. The real bravery, then, wasn’t even the climb, the walk, or the jump; the real bravery was the first shining step up. Your big toe, joyfully swollen and waterlogged, arrives on the gleaming, wet step.
And you’re off. Like most things in life, beginning was the real test of bravery.