There is a short film I watched a few months ago, I think it's called Ten Meter Tower. The film shows a number of people who were offered a symbolic amount of money to jump off of a high dive at a swimming pool, which they had never done before.
The film does not show the people who did not participate because they had jumped off the board before. It does not show the people who had never jumped and were not interested in jumping. It does not show the people who got to the ladder, looked all the way up, and changed their minds. The film and therefore we are only interested in what happens to the people who actually make it all the way up to the diving board. Even there, it shows very few people who just get to the top of the board, run to the edge, and jump. It does not show people after they leave the board, and so you can only wonder how they continued, elegantly or otherwise, through thirty feet of air, plunging down into another six feet or so of water that may or may not have been very cold.
The film mostly shows the people standing at the top of the board hesitating, for various reasons, to jump. There is a part of them that wants to jump – the part that said sure, went to the pool, changed clothes, looked all the way up and still felt like trying; the part that felt the cold metal of the ladder pressing hard against the arches of their feet, all those steps to the top. But there is a part of them that is afraid. An animal part that does not want to fall, does not want to be hurt. Is so afraid that climbing back down the ladder, which is after all the only other way out, seems like possibly less of a failure than whatever frightens them about jumping. And so they stand there, weighing the options, trying to articulate the fear, giving themselves pep talks or letting words close over their heads like water in which they are drowning. Some of them (30%) never jump.
I think about this film almost every day. That I probably wouldn't have agreed to do it because I am not excited about the idea of someone filming me in a bathing suit, or because I don't especially like swimming pools, the smell of chlorine, or because the part of me that is intimately familiar with falling on sidewalks would be afraid of cracking my head on the side of the board. But if I did agree to do it and got as far as the diving board, I don't think I would have a problem with jumping. It's not that I think I am brave: I'm not. So much of my life has been getting to the other side of something that terrified me – moving to new countries, anything with microphones, dating – and then realizing it was not that scary and after all lots of people do those things. So partly I would do it because I have learned over time that once I've done something it's not a big deal. And partly I would do it because I would want to eliminate the retrospective embarrassment of having dithered in front of others. And – a little – I would do it because I would want to know that I had, to have the memory of it as a time I overcame my smaller, more fearful self. But mostly I would do it because I would be so overwhelmingly curious: how would it feel to fall deliberately like that, would there even be time to feel the rush of air before the plunge into the water? Would the water be cold, or when you fly into it do you not really notice? How would it be to experience those weightless worlds in quick succession? A woman, a bird, a fish, a mermaid, a woman. I would want to know.
Why would you jump? Why don't you?