The first time I jumped off the big diving board into the pool as a kid, I was scared silly. I made myself do it again and again, until my heart rate was steady and my legs stopped shaking when I climbed up the ladder and I could race down the length of the diving board to get a running start. Somewhere along the way, jumping became fun. My friends and I, we competed to see who could sail the highest, the farthest, do the craziest twists and splits in the air before hitting the water. I thought I had discovered the greatest solution to being afraid – just jump.
So far this approach has served me well during childhood, throughout all those years of college and vet school, and even as a veterinarian. I’ve lost track of the number of times this year that I’ve walked into an exam room, driven up to a farm, or scrubbed into a surgery – and been more than a little afraid because I haven’t done this before. What if I do something horribly stupid? What if the animal dies while I’m working on it? What if the clients get mad and yell at me? But also, what if I can fix this critter? What if I learn something new and it’s really cool and the clients are wonderful? What if, what if. All distinct possiblities. Both have happened, both have stayed with me and taught me all sorts of useful things. (Such as but not limited to: do not attempt a goat c-section on farm without a good headlamp; and, always wear a surgical gown when removing masses near the cephalic vein.)
I like to think that plunging headfirst into scary things can apply to all aspects of life, but lately I have been learning otherwise. Intangible fears, those frustratingly deep ones, are almost always harder to conquer. Fears of being tied down and settling into one place, of loneliness and depression, of being vulnerable and therefore being hurt, fears of never being good enough, strong enough, loving enough – you just can’t pick those up and shake them into submission, or go diving into them and hope you resurface in one piece.
Or can you? I don’t know. I would still like to try. Who knows how hard and how beautiful such a story could be?
For hadn’t Leslie, even in Terabithia, tried to push back the walls of his mind and make him see beyond to the shining world – huge and terrible and beautiful and very fragile? (Handle with care – everything – even the predators.)
Now it was time for him to move out. She wasn’t there, so he must go for both them. It was up to him to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength.
As for the terrors ahead – for he did not fool himself that they were all behind him – well, you just have to stand up to your fear and not let it squeeze you white. Right, Leslie?
-Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia