My knees start shaking the minute we begin ascending the cliff. The rocks are uneven and dense beneath my feet, and I'm quickly becoming silly putty above them. My friends sense I'm nervous when I grow silent–not quiet or tame or subdued, but dead silent. Our cliff diving instructor, a young Jamaican guy whom I assume is at least five years our junior, is making jokes and quips, but it all registers as static. I am about to jump off of cliff in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and I am scared shitless.
My legs still shake even after my body hits the ocean following the first jump. My knees feel like Jello when I try to tread water. It doesn't occur to me that I am cliff diving until after the second jump, when adrenaline gives way to pain and I notice a gash on my leg from one of the rocks, a parting gift from when I all too quickly get out of the water. I sit out on the third jump and try to fend off a local who wants to chat; he seems unaware that there are tiny specks of blood now gathering near the dent on my leg. I want to forego the rest of this excursion now that includes a mud bath and the grand finale, a Tarzan-esque rope swing. I want to walk, spectate and sulk the rest of the time. But, our instructor is equal parts fearless and unfazed. He encourages me to go on and finish this thing–scathed, shaken up, but perhaps a little better because of it.
So, I finished what I started. And when I smile on cue for the camera after the final cliff dive, it is born from a unique blend of joy and relief.
Once we've returned to flat land, I beg my friends to get the disc of our photos. It is an insufferable tourist request; I know this and yet I want them to indulge me anyway. It's a rare moment when I want more than just the memory of this as my keepsake. I want to look back at these pictures and remember how fear gave way to courage.
It is the same feeling I have when I step onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge in June and see nothing but deep blue beneath my feet. Adventure. It is the way I feel when I I stuff my bags into an Uber and head to the airport for a month-long trip to Australia. Bravery. It is the way I feel when I tell my colleagues that I didn't wear my natural hair to my job interview because I was afraid of not getting the gig. Guts. It is the way I feel when I burst into loud and uncontrollable sobs at a diversity workshop in Geneva, Illinois and share how my own armor and prejudices have completely debilitated me. Vulnerability. It is the way I feel when I finally decide to transform Twenties Unscripted into Woman Unscripted. Resolution. It is the way I feel when I hold him in the vestibule of my apartment on a Friday night and the rest of the world fades to black. Love.
Adventure. Bravery. Guts. Vulnerability. Resolution. Love.
Courage is a patchwork quilt of emotions. It is collection of feelings that require you to bet it all at your own risk, trusting that you will somehow be better for it in the end.
I did not realize just how afraid I have been for all this time until that fear gave way to something new. Something stronger. Something better. Something with more staying power. Something with much more of a gravitational pull. I did not realize just how afraid I was until life gave me better reasons to be brave.
I'd like to believe that surrendering fear is a circumstance of your own choosing. I'd like to believe that we decide to make brave choices and live bolder lives. But, I am not so sure that is true. I think sometimes our world just opens up and God gives us the freedom to fly. He does not ask for our permission.
I am still afraid. Sometimes of what other people will think. Sometimes of failure. Sometimes of not being good enough. Sometimes of being too much. Sometimes of uncertainty. Sometimes of change. Sometimes of losing the things I worked hard for. Sometimes of losing the people I love. Sometimes of losing myself. Sometimes of forgetting what's most important. Sometimes of bigger things like death and illness and other unimaginable life cyclones. I am still afraid.
And, yet, all I want for next year and the years to come is for that fear to continue giving way to courage. All I want is for my world to keep opening up. All I want is more of the freedom to fly.