“Jump,” he says. “Catch the rocks.”
Is he serious? The guide gestures towards the top of what seems to be the world’s largest boulder and suggests I plunge myself into potentially deep water on the edge of one of earth’s tallest waterfalls.
Oh yeah, and if I miss, I follow the rushing water, tumble over the edge and plummet to my death. Or, I could slip and slam my head on the rock. The noise in my head swells: This sounds like a fantastic idea. Why did we decide to do this?
Eight years ago we married and set off to follow the sun on a one-year, around-the-world honeymoon. I was anxious about leaving the comfortable and heading towards the unknown. The morning of day 63, we were in Livingston, Zambia, planning to climb a monstrous rock and take the scariest leap I’ve ever taken, into Devil’s Pool, the natural lagoon on the edge of Victoria Falls.
The guides do this jump multiple times daily. Balancing on a narrow row of unstable, curvy, slippery sediment doesn’t seem to cause them angst nor allow for shift in focus. They have a calm demeanor, uncluttered sight, relaxed body language and encouraging attitude. This is what clarity looks like. It is exactly the opposite of how I am feeling.
Before this trip, things were different. I taught high school and advised clubs during the year, was an aquatics director at a day camp every summer, lived at the beach and traveled on holiday breaks. I always had an itching desire for the atypical, yet doubts and uncertainty ruled the way. I wanted to shatter norms, trade the routine for excitement and the uncertainty of choosing the unpredictable, but what-ifs, fear and anxiety were holding me back. How on earth did all of those thoughts pop in and take hold while I’m teetering on the edge of a tumultuous waterfall?
No matter how hard I try to avoid them, life is full of risks. What if I let that risk in, meet it head on and let the results change me? It’s hard to decipher the chaos from the sanity in moments that feel cataclysmic crazy. In the finite minutes on the edge of Devil’s Pool, none of that matters. To jump or not to jump — that is the only question. If I jump and live, I could be forever changed. That anxiety swilling around in my head will melt away. Devil’s Pool helps me separate the clutter from the clarity.
We sit for a few minutes, enjoying the spectacle before us. Blue skies, countless butterflies and a double rainbow float above as spray hits our faces. I have always been an enthusiastic optimist, but like so many others, the minutiae of life cracks my glass-half-full approach and muddies the waters of all things well-defined. On that ledge, I decide to do my best to be strong, to choose to see us as tiny specks in a much larger sphere, to relinquish my need for control, focus on the truly significant stuff and let the universe do her thing.
I jump. I catch it. Once I come up for air, little fish nibble at my toes as I peer over the edge. It’s one of weirdest feelings and most stunning views I’ve ever experienced. With a roar unlike any other, rushing water cartwheels over the side. Sunlight dances on our faces, the air is dotted with spray and there’s a double rainbow in sight. This is living on the edge. In that moment, the worries, the agita, the nonsense and all the clamor in my brain disappear. The world is clearer, brighter and suddenly seems open to infinite possibilities.
Although the time it took to leap off the rock, levitate and hurtle into the water is perhaps a nano-second, the process of constant perspective seeking is much longer. But it’s in that nano-second I notice how all of life is a risk and that much of that risk is worth the reward. The mist covers my eyes, but in that pool on that edge, all is now clear.
I’m a work in progress, but I am certain that moment atop those majestic falls ignited the magic, cracked my mind open and forced my perspective to shift. Since that jump, I’ve traveled to places I never thought I would, lived overseas, ditched a teaching career in a place I thought I’d stay until retirement and have taken up yoga. I put our stuff in storage, drove across the country and set up shop on a new coast, in a new city, knowing almost no one.
Before that jump, I couldn’t see the benefits of letting go. Then I leapt and the net, or in this case liquid foam, actually did appear. Lesson learned. Take the risk; the perspective shift is undoubtedly worth the reward.