Edited and reposted from October of ’11
The first time I saw the Upper Colorado River from that dizzying vantage point I was impacted by its beauty, even at a young age. The rugged cliffs towered over the edge of the river that was formed by the cutting force of the vicious current below.
Some said those cliffs were over 80 feet tall, others said that the most notorious cliff, aptly named “Suicide”, was just over 65 feet tall. I’m not sure which was closer to the truth, I only know they were scary high.
We started on the lowest cliffs and after each jump into the ice cold water the swift current would take us down to the entrance to a cove. We’d paddle our arms and legs as hard as we could to ensure we made it into the cove. A miss of the entrance to the cove would mean ending up way downstream in the mighty Colorado current.
After about half way up to suicide, my brother called it quits there. He was brave enough, everyone knew that. He was just secure enough with himself to not have to go higher. Being younger, I felt I had something to prove. I wanted to prove I was brave and courageous.
As I stood 60 to 80 feet above the swift moving water I felt gut-wrenching fear… Sheer terror owned the inside of me as I glanced at the distant water and my brother a few cliffs down watching me. My brother didn’t care if I jumped or not, it wouldn’t change his world or what he thought of me.
Why would anyone put themselves in such a precarious predicament? What makes people do things in spite of fear? I couldn’t tell anyone then, I didn’t have a clue. I have a better understanding of these matters now. I’m not claiming to be an expert, but I’ve learned a thing or two about insecurity since then.
As great as the immense fear was within me at the time, it wasn’t as great as the opposing force. It could be called many things; courage, bravery, or guts. It’s possible those ingredients are part of the makeup, but those aren’t the driving force in all similar circumstances.
No, the biggest influence that sometimes makes people overcome fear? In my opinion. Fear itself.
As frightened as I was of the height of that cliff, I realize I was more frightened to not be brave. I sensed more terror of being controlled by fear of the jump. The fear that might come to define my life and own me.
Many are familiar with FDR’s famous quote from his 1933 inaugural address, -“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I wasn’t familiar with that famous quote at that time of my life, standing on loose sand, peering over the side of the cliff at the blinding and shimmering river below.
The jump called me out… It dared me to risk my life. It taunted me… Only the fear of not having the strength to overcome the fear of the jump is what could cause me to “chicken out” and crawl back down in defeat.
There was no crowd cheering me on. There was no one there I needed to impress… except me…
I’m not saying my jumping off a cliff made me a man. I’m also not condoning ignorant and dangerous acts. I just think sometimes we have to step out of our comfort zone. Maybe do the solo at church, tell the people in our world of our beliefs. Ask the advice, give the advice, run that marathon.
Fear, if we allow it, will keep us locked in the closet of life, while others take that step of faith, believing they can fly, even if for only moments.
I could smell the adrenaline in my nostrils as I sprinted toward the edge of that cliff… I planted my left foot about eight inches from the edge of that cliff and shoved off into the great wide open…
Funny thing, once I started running – committed to the task, I felt no more terror…