We recently vacationed with my wife’s family in Dale Hollow, Tennessee. Her folks had rented a cabin and a speedboat on the lake. Most of our days were spent motoring along in the boat, water skiing, tubing, swimming, and fishing.
On day four, we happened upon a cliff face on water’s edge. Ascending in a stepwise arrangement were four perches from which swimmers of increasing bravado could jump into the drink. Normally, the ledges would be approximately 1, 10, 20, and 30 feet above the lake surface, but in this summer of drought and fallen water levels, one could legitimately add 10 feet to each height.
I had been unable to impress the in-laws with any sort of water skiing ability (pictured at right is about as far as I got on water skis).
And, while my tubing had been the source of much laughter and amusement, there was no skill or bravery involved. I decided I’d show the family-in-law what I was made of by jumping off the successively higher perches.
I climbed the first and jumped in, toes first, graceful as ever. No one seemed to notice or be impressed, so I mounted the second step and before I had time to consider what I was doing flung myself into the lake. I popped to the water surface to a few muffled “ooh”s and “ahh”s. Not satisfied by the underwhelming accolades, I scaled the third and penultimate peak. This time, I looked down to 30 feet of elevation between me and the glassy sea and felt my heart momentarily visit my throat. I paused. “Are you really going to do that?” my wife asked. That was the impetus I needed—doubt. Without another thought I leapt from the step and actually had time while I was midair to think about myself falling, flailing before: SMACK. I had tried to keep my body as rigid and toes-down as possible, but in the course of 360 or so inches, my body had managed to rotate about my pelvis such that a pseudo-belly flop resulted.
“Way to go,” my wife said. “Wow,” said some other family member… maybe it was my father-in-law… maybe it was my sister-in-law… I had no time to revel in my own derring-do; in my periphery, I spied a descending body-shaped object descending from on high. Splash! Buoyed up by her life jacket, my mother-in-law popped to the surface. She had jumped from the 40-foot perch.
I had been outdone. “Woohoo, Mom!!!” shouted my wife. “That was amazing,” my father-in-law praised her. Whatever street credibility I’d achieved by jumping 30 feet had completely vanished with my mother-in-law’s 40-foot leap of glory.
“Wow, that hurt,” she said after regaining her composure. But I didn’t have time to let those words sink in. I was scaling the crag. I rushed to the peak from which she had jumped, but when I looked over the edge I had second thoughts. From the water, my wife and in-laws expressed their misgivings. “Honey, please don’t do this,” my wife importuned. “Yeah, it really wasn’t even fun,” my mother-in-law chimed in. “It just hurt.”
I stood, teetering on the edge, legitimately frightened by the distance. “People break their necks jumping from that height,” my father-in-law shouted up to me. I nearly backed down, when, after a few minutes of consideration and reconsideration, my mother-in-law appeared behind me. “I’m going again,” she said, smiling.
“I thought you said it wasn’t fun.”
“Well, it wasn’t that much fun, and it hurt, but now that I’ve done it once, I think I can do it right.”
I deferred to her, and she jumped again off the cliff.
I stepped forward again but was talked down by my wife. “Please, honey, you might hurt yourself.” In a moment, my life flashed before my eyes, and I acquiesced. I gave in. I punked out. I descended the cliff face, slipped into the water, doggy paddled in place for some time, tail between my legs, as my mother-in-law claimed the glory I sought after.