Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Facing a Cliff? Go Ahead and Jump!

With all this talk about the fiscal cliff, you'd think going over a cliff is a bad thing. As with all things in life, it depends. On the cliff.

I understand the anxiety about facing a cliff and not wanting to go over it. I'm one of those people who, staring down at the bay from the Golden Gate Bridge, imagines what it would be like to jump or, worse, be pushed off. The thought immediately causes me to step back from the rail, horrified.

But sometimes, I see a cliff and know I must jump.

Before you send a SWAT team of psychiatrists to my home, I'm talking primarily about a psychological cliff. It's a point you've reached beyond which you can only see a deep, scary chasm of uncertainty. There's no obvious safety net. And yet, you jump.

When I was 29, I was offered the opportunity to move from Atlanta to San Francisco by my then-employer. All the moving expenses were paid and I had a job to go to. At the time, Nick was not working, so he was free to relocate. We were both bored with Atlanta anyway. Was this really a cliff? Maybe not, but it felt like one. What if we didn't like San Francisco and wanted to move back--without any jobs to return to? How would my parents react to such a big move? What would happen to our friendships in the South? Nearly 26 years later, I'm happy to report that this was one of the best 'cliff jumps' I've ever made.

A few years ago, I was in New York on business. While there, I went on a three-day theater binge. Electrified by August: Osage County, I decided to try my hand at writing plays. Within three years, I was among the opening-night audience for a short farce I'd written called Two Wings and a Breast. I knew, heading to the theater, that I was also heading toward a cliff. I had friends in the audience--what if they didn't like it and simply gave me fake smiles afterwards? What if no one laughed when I wanted them to or laughed when they weren't supposed to? What if the actors flubbed their lines? What if an actor at the last minute couldn't make it and my play, part of an evening of shorts, was cancelled? (There were no understudies). I took the leap anyway, and thankfully, the audience went with me.

Not all my cliffs have been purely psychological, however.

Years ago, on a trip to Mexico, I had just begun to insinuate myself onto a beach chair when I heard Nick call my name--from somewhere in the sky. I looked up and discovered he was parasailing over my head. He returned to Earth, all breathless excitement about the fantastic experience he'd just had and urging me to try it too. Nick's mother and former sister-in-law, Margaret, were with us. Margaret and I anxiously took the challenge, signed legal documents that would give even a Hollywood stuntman reason for concern, were strapped into parachutes, and were soon airborne.

As I floated over Acapulco Bay, I screamed as loud as I possibly could. Even the iguanas stopped munching foliage and looked up. Eventually, something miraculous happened: I stopped screaming. I looked around. I admired the view, felt the embrace of warm sun and wind. In those few moments, I had no fear, only wonder and excitement and gratitude.

Those moments ended all too soon, unfortunately. When attempting to land on a postage-stamp platform in the bay, I smacked against the side of it instead. The physical pain was fleeting; it's the jump I took that is with me still.

What cliffs have you jumped off? I'd love to hear about them in the comments.

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  1. So here's one Jim... Can one jump off the same cliff twice - into two different chasms? I think maybe I have.

    Back in the early Spring the love of my life broke things off with me after nearly a decade and - of course - some stupidity on my part. A couple of months later we found ourselves rekindling a pure but powerful platonic companionship, the likes of which would be difficult to replicate.

    Cliff #1: The jump to convince her to move beyond that companionship to reconcile and rekindle the full romance against a sometimes dubious past. She has been reticent. The searingly tight connection on one level continued. The move beyond that to the romantic level did not.

    Cliff #2: Tonight I jumped anew by saying to forget my first jump. And I proposed we abandon rekindling the romance, and continue instead to maintain the tight and meaningful friendship. It's a leap of faith that I can dial back one part of my emotions, while reveling in the connectedness of what remains.

    I wonder if the chute will open.

    1. Steve, thank you for posting such an honest, heartfelt story. I really appreciate it. That's a tricky one, dialing back some of your emotions but not others. I suspect the chute will open for you.

  2. (good luck to you Steve! You are brave!!) ^

    I think I am a habitual cliff jumper. I'm the kind who runs up to the edge and flies off, then thinks later. Most seem to have worked out okay?

    1. Changed colleges at the very last second. (states and everything)Passed up majoring in voice, and still wondering what my life's calling is.
    2. While married, met my soulmate and "went for it." Fourteen years later, I'm happy to report that was the right call.

    I'm a jumper, but I'm deathly afraid of heights!!

    1. I'm deathly afraid of heights too--which makes the jump all the more meaningful, right?

  3. Jim, wonderful story! I am so afraid of heights, I don't think I would be able to go para sailing, but oddly enough, some of my favorite dreams are when I am flying.

    I think you know the cliff I jumped off of around six years ago. It was HUGE, but in the end it paid off, just like your move to San Francisco. My souvenir? Paul....

    1. Thanks Bill. I do know the cliff you jumped off and how enormous it was. It took a lot of guts and I so admire you for it. And yes, you got quite the reward for making the jump!

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