In life there is a point where the risk of not doing something feels worse than the risk of actually doing it. ‘It’ being a move towards the unknown, the unrehearsed or anything at all that feels just out of our reach. Making art is actually the practice of making, again and again, these kinds of moves. They are scary but they punctuate our lives with poignancy and meaning. Much of our life slips from our memory but the times we followed our intuition, or took that step without knowing where we would land, rarely are forgotten. Especially the first time.
This week I offer a story, written by my daughter, Hannah, of one of those times. – NW
I was eight years old and my family went on a bike trip through Austria. Starting at the German border and winding our way through the beautiful countryside to Vienna, we stopped for lunch in small cobblestone towns and rustic inns. Everything was a bit strange and new to me. I recall hesitantly tasting from a traditional breakfast buffet of mysterious cold cuts and cheese, learning to change gears on my bike, and listening to the strange sounds of German and Austrian families squabbling over lunch.
Caution and fear were constant companions to my eight-year-old self. In fact, I remember being scared of a lot of things—bears, airplanes, fires, being lost or separated from my family, losing a tooth. Every night before going to sleep in a new place or at a friend’s house, I would thoughtfully run over my escape plan just in case the house flooded or was engulfed into flames. Living alongside two fearless parents who had traversed the whole globe, sailing through a tropical storm around the Fiji islands, perhaps I felt someone in the family needed to be practical.
After one particularly long and hot, dusty day of riding, we stopped at a water park in Melk, just outside of Vienna. My mom and dad rested under the shade of a tree as my sister, Lyla, and I went to explore the complex tangle of slides, tubes and diving boards. It was my first time at a water park. You can imagine my horror as I watched thousands of kids twisting through tubes and shooting out from different portals and slides into a giant pool of overly chlorinated water. Shrieks and screams reverberated off the inside walls of this giant plastic dome, and sent me wandering outside.
I don’t think I will ever be able explain my next move. Or what propelled me to climb the 35-foot diving board latter. But somehow I found my toes hanging off the edge of that diving board looking down into a deep pool of shimmering turquoise below. Goggled and knees turned in, I looked behind me at the line of impatient teens waiting to jump…there was no turning back. And for some reason the voice inside my head that often told me to turn back said, “Hannah, this is your time. This is the day you will stop being scared.”
Perhaps it was the kind of choice I faced—heroically jumping into the diving pool or sitting with my mom watching other kids splash and play—that no longer felt like a choice. Holding onto a lot of “no’s” and missed experiences, I felt that the only way out, the only escape route was to jump and choose “yes”.
So I jumped.
My stomach turned over and flipped in my body as I awkwardly fell down to the water like a bird paralyzed, shot out of the sky. Upon hitting the water, I knew that jump had changed everything. So when I walked over to my parents and told them what happened, it didn’t really matter to me that nobody believed my story. It was a powerful and silent shift…and I liked that I was the only real witness to my extraordinary dive.
I still don’t really like heights. I’m not the kind of person that gets nauseous riding a tall elevator to the top of a New York skyscraper, but I also don’t intentionally seek out heights or adrenaline-producing, extreme sports. However, every time I encounter the chance to jump, I do it. Whether leaping from a tall diving board or off a rock into the sea in Greece, when I hit the cold water, something is once again reaffirmed in myself. Something about the sensation of jumping relights that glowing, fiery feeling of uncertainty and excitement inside of me. It reminds me that I am alive and have the agency to do whatever or be whomever I want.
I’m not advising anyone to exist in constant chaos or live on the edge, fling yourself from the tall bridges, or rock climb the face of Half Dome. But I do think it’s incredibly valuable to find your own small way to step outside yourself, even if that sometimes means that you have to fake it. The girl that jumps off tall rocks into the dark blue ocean isn’t necessarily me; but she gives me a taste of what it means to be wild and utterly free, reminding me how good it feels to just jump.
How can you wholeheartedly and completely let go? What is your “jump”? Because that feeling, that zing, is what we are all chasing after. Its what reminds us that we are alive. Try to step outside yourself, even if for a moment, and open to the possibilities that might exist just beyond.
What is your Jump?
Nicholas and Hannah
the founder of Art2Life.
With over 20 years experience as a working artist and educator, I’ve developed a systematic approach that brings authenticity, spontaneity and joy back into the creative process.