Looking Up and Out
Once, I dived off a cliff in Vermont. This moment is kind of like that.
If that afternoon was hot like the rest of them in July, I didn’t know it because I was shivering, buried beneath the shadowy trees whose growth remained uninterrupted by isolated wilderness. I stood at the top of a small cliff and let my toes hover over the edge as I peeked at the water below, and, even in a few places, I could see all the way down to where the sand met the water at the bottom. If I had ever been truly afraid of breaking a leg, or a tooth, or my neck, it was in this moment, covered by a blanket of darkened shade. Fear. It makes our skin feel prickly and like we will never eat again, even if we could conjure up the best meal we could imagine. Fear, half excitement and half irrationality, yet it comes from the realest of the real roots that lie within us.
This could be one of those stories where the person says, “and then I just jumped.” But it isn’t, because I didn’t just jump. I thought a lot before jumping, and almost didn’t do it. I saw myself laid up in a hospital bed with broken legs, or coming up from the water having lost my bathing suit top, or slipping off the edge right before jumping. Real movie stuff. In that moment I must have imagined that sometimes, even if it is bad, life really can be like it is in the movies.
Anything could have happened but it wouldn’t have been far off from flying.
I guess in the end, I knew that I couldn’t see if there were any rocks at the bottom, or exactly how deep the small watering hole was, or if it would hurt to feel the water meet my skin at impact. But what I did know was that it was getting late and that maybe I would always wonder what if if I walked away. I jumped, body sank into the cold water. There were no rocks; I didn’t even quite reach the bottom. I swam underwater for a moment and forgot the shock of the cold, of the jump itself, of anything that existed beyond my body and the water. When I reached the surface, I could see that the sunshine found a spot to shine beyond the leaves, beyond the shade, beyond the cold, onto the water, my face, my hair, where it had found a space to rest itself before the day was over. It warmed my skin and as I looked up I had a clear view of the last of the blueness of that day’s sky.
Maybe we are all just looking for a place to look up at a really pretty sky, even if when we look back down at the world around us all we see is newness, a foreign sensation that warms itself to us slowly. Maybe things like that keep us grounded, even if the very nature of them flings us into chaos. I think Chile will be one of those moments that feels like it is going to last forever. And I think that this trip, too, will feel a little like flying.
When we are young the things that we get ourselves into feel like they are going to last forever, even if they only last a moment, like swimming underwater or catching the last of the sun’s warmth. I wonder what the night sky will feel like in Chile, except when I leave tomorrow to find out, I won’t think twice about jumping.