The young girl, maybe two or three, looked out the second story window into the sharp morning sunlight. Her brother waited below on the grass. He looked up at her, squinting.
“Come on. Jump. I’ll catch you.”
Not thinking too much about it, she climbed up onto the window ledge. Sand, caught in the window frame from years of strong Lake Michigan winds, stuck to her moist plump palms as she hesitated.
“I’ll catch you,” he said again. Nine years older than the girl, he looked strong as he held out his arms for her. In a second she jumped and landed without incident against the boy’s chest, safe.
Then she wanted to do it again.
That jump might be the last gutsy thing I have done. Or was it the last time I trusted anyone? Or is that jump just an example of what comes from complete boredom with a cottage full of kids in the summer?
In any case, for a few years after that jump, I would challenge myself to jump off things. Nothing too high, just a few feet at a time. I worked myself up to jumping off a railroad tie wall that might have been 8 feet tall at its highest. It was satisfying to land my bare feet on hard ground, even though the shock of it would travel up my legs like lightning. Jumping was empowering, and when you’re just a kid you think you need all the power you can get.
Little did I know I was more powerful as a child than I am now. As a child my impetuous tendencies were straight from the heart. As an adult they are muffled and hard to find.
It is a crime what happens to our open childlike ways, beaten out of us with school, rules, well-intentioned teachers and admonishing parents. We come into the world full of baby trust that works just fine for years. Then we pack it away with our baby pictures and wrap ourselves up in layers of safety instead. Safety is boring. It counts on fear to bring us around to the monotonous and keep us there. I know, because I am a big chicken and I often wonder what happened to the real me.
Fear is heavy, too. We carry it around with us in extra weight, piles of paper, and tons of insurance. We pay homage to it with big cars and plan for it to enter our busy lives when we least expect it, when we are vulnerable or weak or old. My mind is exhausted from thinking of different ways fear might stalk me and how I might protect myself.
Where is the young girl of 8 years who rode horses, fell off constantly, and learned to lie on the ground as the horse sailed over her instead of the jump? Where is the girl who played with her sister on a patch of quicksand that gurgled and bounced like a springy old bed? Where is the two year old baby who felt her way in the dark to the creepy black basement each morning to stand on the toilet and watch her father shave?
These aren’t the escapades of extreme sports fanatics, but not many of us need those kinds of thrills to feel alive. Most of us are happy to have the guts to ask a new friend to lunch or to visit a new city on our own. The point is, as a kid we weren’t afraid every day. We trusted in the world and that things would work out in our favor. We lived in the moment and created the moments we wanted to live.