Welcome to the land of uncertainty
Last week I announced, for health reasons, I was taking a break from teaching. On that same day President Donald Trump announced he was infected with the coronavirus. Since our announcements, President Trump has apparently healed, recovered, and moved on.
I have not.
This morning, a gray, rainy morning, I comforted myself by reading emails recently received from family and friends, former and current students, colleagues and strangers who visit this blog. The emails were, thankfully, supportive of my decision.
“We’re with you!”
“Keep writing and fighting.”
“Thank you for making me think.”
“I’m really excited to see what the next chapter of your life brings.”
When I was a teenager, on hot summer days, my friends and I would often walk to a nearby creek. There was a certain stretch of the creek that carved through high walls of rock. Creatively, we called these walls the “cliffs” which reached some 15 feet high. The first time I went to the cliffs, a kid from the neighborhood mazed down a shaded dirt path and showed me and two other friends the way. Our tour guide was paper-thin, soft-spoken, unathletic and by way of teenage cruelty was by a forced loner. I remember he said the cliffs were his escape. And how he would often spend summer days there, alone, just jumping of the cliffs, swimming in the green creek, and smoking cigarettes. He said when we reach the top of the cliffs to not think. Just jump. He assured us the creek was deep and the water refreshing and that we would be okay.
We climbed to the top of the wall and our tour guide kicked off his sneakers, turned to us and said, “Welcome to the cliffs!” and then, still smiling, outlined in the high blue sky, he jumped backwards off the cliff and into the creek below. No fear or hesitation. No doubt. No second guessing. Just a free-falling young man on a warm summer afternoon.
I peered over the edge. His head bobbed in the water. He was still smiling.
“Jump!” He shouted up at me.
I’m in a weird spot right now. I do not regret taking a leave from teaching. I needed it. My mental and physical health needed it. And when I decided to take the leave I first felt relief. I felt lighter. Like I was 15 again and just leapt off the cliffs on a hot summer afternoon. But I made that leap 25 years ago. I had, in those days, the luxury to be reckless and immature. Recovery was expected. But not now. My body is brittle. The stakes are higher. And there is just a lot more to lose.
“What if I made a mistake?”
“What if I regret my decision?”
“What if my decision causes tragic consequences?”
I stand by the window and watch the rain fall. My neighbor’s lawn is marked with red, white, and blue political signs. Right now, a lot American lawns scream their owner’s political beliefs. My Facebook feed is pockmarked with political pomp. My TV is a soapbox of political posturing.
As we inch closer toward a presidential election, America is the land of uncertainty. What once was, may cease to be. In some regards, aren’t we all confused and scared? What if my guy doesn’t win? What if the America I know now is transformed into something I don’t recognize? Our star-spangled knees shake like autumn leaves. Like we’re standing at the edge of a cliff, our toes hanging over the edge, with a thump in our chest, a tightness in our jaws, and the press of gravity and history and fear on our tired shoulders.
We are a nation uncertain. But to be uncertain is human. And though we crave certainty, a degree of surefootedness, uncertainty builds resiliency and inspires self-assurance. Trusting ourselves to take a leap, to strode bravely into an uncertain American future is what we must do in order realize what we are truly capable of.
When I started trying hard to impress girls, I stayed away from the skinny neighborhood kid. He was bad for business. I was young and selfish and being popular was more important than being decent. But all these years later, I sit with my choices and feel guilty. He was just a kid looking for answers–just like I was then. Just like you and I are doing right right now. I type his name into Google. Details are sparse but he died tragically in September, 2015. He was survived by only his parents and sister.
The word tragically lingers in my throat. Did it happen at the falls? Did he die because of his own tragic decision? Or was his death the result of someone else’s tragic choice? The weight of choice sits with me and only now, in memory, can I find the skinny kid from the neighborhood alive. He’s bobbing in the deep part of the creek, smiling, and the cool green water ripples toward the shore. His obituary said he loved travel and writing and swimming and I think how nice it would be to bump into him at the supermarket this evening or maybe at a polling center on November 3rd.
After some small talk, maybe he would ask if I had taken any leaps lately like I did when I was 15.
And I would say, “Yes.”
And maybe he would say, “Good for you,” and maybe he would smile again.
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