As school supplies start showing their brightly packaged, horrible selves in stores everywhere, we will soon be forced to acknowledge that summer is coming to an end. It’s time to plan the annual trip my son Jonah and I take to a water/amusement park before school starts, and it brings to mind an eye-opening conversation I had with one of his buddies last year. He was telling me how he’d been to the same park, and wasn’t it fun? Then, in the serious way of kids, this little gem:
Buddy: What I’ve learned from my experience on roller coasters is that the best time to throw up is at the top of a loop. If the ride is fast, you’ll be out of there before it falls on you or anyone else.
Me: Roller coasters make you throw up, but you still go on them?
Buddy (looking at me in disbelief): Well, YEAH…they’re fun!
Disgusting? Certainly. I don’t even want to think about the poor people that sat behind him during the many rides it took him to develop this strategy. But it was also something else. It was a nudge from that faintly remembered exoskeleton of exuberance that we are all born with. The one that fades away with disuse as we grow up and start caring about how we look and what people think. How long has it been since you went running full-tilt into an activity you enjoy, with no fear of something going wrong? How many beloved activities have you stopped doing because there is an inconvenience involved, or because you might be embarrassed?
I know the answer, for me, is too long and too many. I recall a pair of roller skates I talked myself into a few years ago, because it’s good exercise and I loved skating when I was a kid. When I received the more-dangerous-looking-than-I-remembered skates, I drove to several different parks in an effort to avoid witnesses. It was well after dark by the time I found a suitable place for my big comeback. Now, darkness is great for avoiding being seen, but not so great if you’re interested in knowing what’s in front of you while you have wheels strapped to your feet. Let’s just say it was a wild ride, made up in turns of shuffling, brief glimmers of skating, something that resembled a one-sided Lambada with a trash can, a bit of swearing and a whole lot of Not Looking Awesome. Two sessions later, the skates were relegated to the garage, where someone made off with them for a pittance at my next yard sale.
So, back to our little friend, bravely vomiting where he has vomited before, because what’s a little motion sickness in the face of that thrill? What would our lives be like if we took a page from his book and pursued what we love, full force, no matter what? I’m betting we’d be a lot happier, healthier, and less judgemental. Because it’s hard to make fun of someone when you were just being a joyful dork five minutes ago.
I say we try it! I’m going to commit, right here on the interwebs, to doing something I’ve been both longing to do and dreading. I’m going to go swimming at my old team’s pool at least two times next week, even though that ten-foot walk from dropping-the-towel-to-getting-in-the-pool feels like an eternity. Even though the very thought of someone being in the locker room at the same time as me fills me with dread. Because swimming brought me nothing but joy growing up, and I have missed that pool every day for the last (gulp) 26 years. I’m going to let go of the towel, focus on the familiar beauty of my favorite pool, and pretend the high-school lifeguard thinks I’m awesome. If I manage to avoid puking on myself, bonus!
What’s something you’ve missed doing, or not done because you’re scared of being injured, bad at it, or embarrassed? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, and build a little community of people who support each other in remembering (and reactivating!) our natural fearlessness.