It was Talya’s last day in Santa Cruz before she leaped into Brooklyn for a year and we walked toward the shoreline as it challenged the sand into a wet relief. She, my sister’s best friend and very much my adopted sister. That slow, steady, common-law adoption that I’d only come to fully appreciate and respect and recognize as a lifelong relationship to truly nurture in this last year.
Nearly a year ago we had all camped and hiked up the Arroyo Seco and dove off of cliffs and witnessed a massive oak tree as it dove itself into the river. If we’d been two minutes faster up the river it was difficult to imagine a scenario in which that swift, bomb-like descent didn’t kill at least one of us, or in the best case scenario become a really, really bad day, instead of just a really, really wild and scary and intense day. It was a thing to fear, and then a thing to laugh about. The thing that didn’t kill you. And then all imagined things to run away from as its sharpnel of bark and leaf and branch entrails haunted us downstream.
When I’d approached the rock face to jump off the day before, I noticed that the fear of that impending leap felt the same as every other moment of fear of an unknown. I could feel the equivalence of the quality in my body, although I hadn’t quite located its origin and signal yet. But the sameness of the sensation, amplified, more insurmountable, helped me to begin to decipher my patterns of fear. The harder it was here, the easier it seemed to get elsehwere. Whether it was a new situation at work, a difficult or uncertain conversation, an attempt at something new or seemingly hard in a way which I felt like I might fail, or a stranger of any kind who seemed to invite a conversation, it was always just the same fear. To take a leap.
So I told Talya about this sameness of fear again, now nearly a year later at the shore and the water at our ankles, and ran directly into the small shore break and then dove into the next wave without hesistancy. To move through the fear as directly and as swiftly as possible. Even in the dry heat of the shore, that cold pacific water always was too cold. It always had been, since the first wetsuit was zipped shut at the neck line. And yet it always felt good, amazing, refreshing, once you make the leap and take the plunge.
It’s rarely, if ever, the floating and the swim afterwards that is unpleasant. It’s only the shock of transition that helps the fear to manifest. And even if it’s too cold, then you pull yourself via personal evolution back onto shore and find drying devices and whatever heat is in your future. The heat always comes back eventually. But sometimes it’s weeks or months before you find that reward to reinforce the leap.
Out of necessity, at my most sleep and sensory deprived in North Fork, I started taking a cold shower at the end of every warm normal shower to attempt a very wet impersonination of those normal people who could casually drink even a modest thimble full of coffee. In that moment of trying to navigate myself back into a chilly stream of water, I noticed the reflexive hesitation and fear and the ability to overcome it. And in fact experience in the matter of just one second how the fear would be supplanted categorically and unequivocally with joy, excitement, surprise, and even comfort.
I would think it would be painful, and then it would be really great. And so now the ritual of the cold shower, as much as the ritual of the dive into fresh cold ocean waters, was of one piece. To notice the fear, and then notice how quickly and succinctly the translation of that fear was like the greatest magic trick of all time. And to continue to decrease the gap between those two experiences, and to reinforce every day the notion of how quickly something fearful can become something beautiful and exquisite.
Leaping into Brooklyn would probably feel like that ocean for awhile, perpetually bouncing around that concrete and steel washer-dryer combo of challenging fear to elation. It would be the something every day that scares you.