© 2008 -- 2011 the Grandpa at The Word Mechanic. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Just do it

I really like it when people do fun things with words.

I found the following on Gawdess's Viewfinder 365's blog this morning. She was writing about glasses.

when I was a kid
I wore them because I had to
now I wear them because I need them
And here's how Braja at Lost and Found in India headed her post I saw this morning:
If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.
When I taught freshman English so many years ago, I used to start every term with a story about how I learned to dive.

I didn't learn to swim until I went to college, but then I never spent much time at pools after that. Then one year, when my oldest son was about 10, we suddenly found ourselves one summer with enough time and money to afford a family membership at the local pool.

I'd take the kids over two or three times a week in the morning for their swimming lessons and then we'd spend a couple hours just hanging at the pool. Mainly I'd sit in a deck chair at the edge of the pool reading a novel and watch the kids enjoy themselves in the water.

One day I heard my oldest son shouting at me "Hey, Dad! Look at me!" I looked up from the book but didn't see him anywhere. "Up here! I'm on the diving board!" I looked over at the diving board at the end of the pool but didn't see him. "No! Up here! The high dive!"

I looked up. There he was on the back of the high dive. "Watch!" he shouted and ran forward jumping when he got to the end, legs kicking, arms flailing, splash coming.

He bobbed up out of the water and swam to the edge where I was. "That was great," I said.

"Now you do it!"

"Maybe later. I'm kind of busy right now." (Hey, I was an English major in grad school. So it was actually work.)

"Oh c'mon, Dad. What's the matter? Chicken?" Of course, he said it in that quiet ten-year-old voice that turned every head in the pool in our direction.

Well you can't let your kid call you a chicken in public, so I closed the book and stood up. "Okay," I said. "Keep an eye on your brother while I go up there."

I walked to the end of the pool and started up the ladder of the high dive. About half way up, I remembered I've got this fear of heights. So I stopped, looked up, saw there was nothing to hold onto once I'd get there. Then I looked down, and there were both of my sons standing over by my chair beaming up at me and pointing. So, like an idiot, I went on up the ladder.

I walked out very slowly to the end of the board and looked down--a long, long way down. I don't need to do this, I thought. I don't need to prove anything to a couple of little kids. So I turned around and figured the best way down was the way I came up -- on the ladder.

I hadn't noticed before, but some kind of big truck driver who used to play linebacker in college had come up the ladder behind me. There he was at the top of the ladder, waiting his turn. I thought about saying, Excuse me, but I need to go back down. But before I could get the words out, he said, "Go ahead, buddy, jump."

So there I was, standing at the end of the high dive, looking down -- a long, long way down -- at the pool below, confirming for myself that, yes, I have a fear of heights. I was wondering what makes you stop before you hit your head on the bottom of the pool? And what if a big gust of wind caught me just as I jumped . . ."Jump, Dad!" both boys yelled in unison.

I looked over to where they were standing, and a crowd had started gathering there, some of them shielding their eyes with their hand, and I though I was hearing scattered cries of "Jump, jump." Then I heard somebody laugh.

I looked to the left, and there was the lifeguard sitting on his high chair chuckling at me. The lifeguard was laughing at me. What does that mean when the lifeguard is laughing at you? What's he going to say when you fall into the pool and drown. "Oh I'm sorry. I was laughing so hard I couldn't even get out of my chair." Pretty soon, though, he took pity on me. "Just hold your hands in the air, close your eyes and fall forward," he said.

What? Do I know this guy? Was he in a class I taught? Did I give him a bad grade on a paper? "What?!" I shouted at him.

"Just close your eyes, raise your hands, and fall forward. It won't hurt."

Now when someone tells you it won't hurt, you know they're not telling you the truth. But then I heard the truck driving linebacker behind me muttering. I couldn't tell exactly what he was saying, but it was something like, "Go ahead and jump, buddy, before I come out there and throw you off." I decided it was better to put my fate in the hands of the lifeguard.

So I closed my eyes, raised my hands over my head, and fell forward. For exactly .018 of a second, it felt exhilarating. But then I hit the water. The lifeguard had lied. It hurt. Oh yes.

But at the same time, I felt this wonderful sense of accomplishment. I swam over to the side, pulled myself out of the water and stood facing the beaming face of my son. "That was great, Dad. Do it again!"

Now here's the really stupid part. I thought, Yeah. Why not? Of course by the time I got to the base of the ladder, he'd run off to play with some new found friend. But that was okay. I wasn't doing it for him.

The second time hurt too, but not as much. And the third time hurt a little less. By the fourth falling forward, I kept my eyes open. It's a wonderful feeling to see the world turn upside down like that while you're in free fall. And it didn't hurt, either.

I must have fallen forward another 20 times before we left the pool. Then that evening, I went back over after dinner and fell forward some more. From then on, every chance I got, I would go off the high dive. Of course, I never became an Olympic diver, but I did get to go off the high platform once at the Ohio State varsity pools. (Quite a bit higher than the high dive at the neighborhood pool. We're talking cliff diving in Mexico.) That was a thrill.

Then I'd tell my students, "That's kind of what learning to write is like. You close your eyes and fall forward. Just do it. It may hurt a little at first. But you'll eventually come to actually liking that you can do it."

And that's what I like about the Blogosphere. All these people just falling forward. Just doing it.

And take a look at today's spotlight post (the link's over in the right sidebar) for a nice turn of phrase.


  1. Jumping in head first - thanks for the words of insight and wisdom.

  2. Oh that is a beautifully inspirational post. Loved it and given I am scared of heights I know exactly what you mean. I felt the same when I went up in a hot air balloon. It freeing isnt it? I am so glad your son encouraged you to do that.

  3. Wow, Lilly. I've always wanted to go up in a hot air balloon. If you haven't, you should post about it.

  4. You know what? Amen. That's all I can say.

    Peace - Rene

  5. Hi grandpa, Gosh that sounds weird! Thanks for that post - You really are a teacher aren't you? (in the best sense of the word). Firstly - Thanks for calling at my blog and also for adding to my followers, you will no doubt have realised that I'm not in the same league as lilly - but I do try! which is a message that came through loud and clear in your post and has in the last few years actually entered my brain... As far are heights are concerned though I will decline you very tempting offer, I have a 'horror' of heights.. I remember standing on the veranda of our hotel room on the 24th floor in Benidorm one holiday hanging on for dear life, scared to go forward or backwards and feeling that I would be pulled over the edge if I moved. My dear husband was with me and tried to reasure me that I would be OK if I moved but I felt I was nailed in place.. can't remember how long I stood there before Rob helped me inside the doors - it was a total nightmare! Will call again, Cheers for now, Kate x.

  6. I enjoyed reading about your diving experience.

    It reminds me of something I often tell my students - and need to tell myself more often! -- you never think back to all those things you did not do, only those things you DID do! I suppose there is a better way to phrase that, but you probably know what I mean.

    When I was in college I drove to Daytona Beach on a whim with some people I had just met the night before. Now, 30 or 40 years later, I remember how wonderful that experience was, even though at the time I sort of got in trouble with my dad (I was supposed to have come home and worked for the week on the farm!).

    Take care.

  7. Since I'm not a strong swimmer, I doubt I'll be jumping off of any diving boards in the near future, but loved your story.

  8. I've never been much of a swimmer, but love jumping off anything into water to get that sensation of falling. You description of falling with your eyes open reminded me of Leni Riefenstahl's "Olympia" : great imagery to accompany a great story. You make me feel that blogging is a more noble endeavor than perhaps I've given it credit for!

  9. I totally LOVED that! What a wonderful story and lesson! I am so glad I found your blog!!!!

  10. Grandpa, that was somethin' else :)

  11. So this is what having children will do to you ?
    And there I thought getting up five times a night to feed them was the worst that could happen to me.

  12. If only that was all there was. Thanks, Julia, for stopping by. And I have to add, my kids have created so many opportunities for new experiences for me, I don't know how I'll ever thank them.