We walked out to the pier and looked out over the freezing Lake Michigan water 10 feet below. I am afraid of jumping off of things. I can look down over the ledge of a tall building and fly in an airplane and climb a mountain without fear, but the act of willfully letting my feet leave the earth just happens to terrify me. I have been known to freeze up on diving boards, 18 measly inches above water.
This time, it wasn’t so hard. With the 3..2..1 countdown, there was no time to worry. With my sisters to synchronize with, I couldn’t fret and wait and stall and stress. Mom loves when her girls are together. She likes it even more when we let her take pictures of us. She likes it even more when we include her. We pressured her to jump in with us. She agreed. Then, as mothers and fathers and daughters do, I immediately began worrying about the consequences of our suggestion. What if it’s too cold for mom and the water shocks her and she can’t swim and it’s all our fault and she knew better but caved in to the pressure of her three demanding daughters? We jumped together, weeeee!
The three sisters surfaced first and stared at the water where we expected her to be. She took a few worrisome seconds too long to come up out of the water. Everything was fine.
Exhilarated and cold, we made our way farther down the pier to sit and watch the water traffic along the canal. A “boat parade” Mom called it. She has a way seeing the world that allows me to imagine the impossible act of knowing my own mother when she was a kid. It is the gift of a woman who has spent so much of her adult life with children. It made the slow-moving boats trudging through the canal into a sort of a celebration.
From our perch, I told everyone about my half-serious life goal to hitchhike on a sailboat. We joked about how awkward it would be for the people on board, what a gamble it is to accept a ride from someone that you can’t even see, and where on earth they would take you if it all worked.
I wanted to do it– badly– but I wasn’t sure if it would be entertaining or embarrassing for my family, couldn’t tell if it would be daring or dumb for me. I’m not terribly adept at staying on the right side of that line, so I didn’t trust my own judgment. They told me that I had to do it, that it was now or never.
Many boats went by, but each of them had motors, and then, the tell-tale triangular profile of a single sailboat came toward us. It was far enough away that we couldn’t see it clearly but close enough to get a sense of what we were working with. We squinted our eyes to get a look at the people inside: trying to determine if there was only one passenger (seemed unwise), but no, there were two; trying to determine if those two were a couple on a romantic spree (seemed rude), but no, there was an older and a younger man. The ideal target: trustworthy and presumably up for adventure. I stood up and waved a large two-armed greeting to them. Then I stuck out my thumb and tipped my chin, “eh?” One of them seemed to shrug his shoulders in agreement, and that hint of suggestion was enough for me.
I dove in and swam fast and strong toward their boat. It felt like I was flying through the water but when I lifted my head, I had only made it halfway there. The boat had been directly in front of me when the whole exchange began but the current was strong and the boat was moving at a good clip. Now the gap between us was bigger than when I’d started. Hadn’t I solved this physics problem before. It was clear I had to give up. From the water I waved at my would-be-hosts to say “I’m alright” and “thanks” and “haha, good try” and returned in a slow backstroke.
So many ideas occur in the course of a single day but only a few of them ever break the boundary into reality. There are so many fire alarms I thought of pulling, so many boys I wanted to say “hi” to, so many times I just wanted to dance but felt inhibited. I failed to reach that sailboat, but it really doesn’t matter. Now the dream has a form in the real world. I know I can do it. What was once a “what if?” is now a “when?” One day, it will happen.