Any creative person is by nature a perfectionist. But perfectionists are more fearful of failure than exploring the possibility of triumph. But successful creative people have to be one part talented and the other part brazen. They look at the ‘What if?’ and say ‘So, what?’
Leap and the net will appear
– Zen saying
Cris and I were out on a lovely walk of downtown when we stumbled on a plaza that neither of us had ever noticed. It small and had a unusual fountain in the middle of it with three long pools of water just behind it. While we talked, I climbed onto the edge of the first pool. When I got to end of it, I contemplated the space between it and the next pool.
“Jump!” He said.
“No, I can’t.”
“It’s too far,” I said.
“I think you can, if you had a good running start,” Cris said.
We talked for good awhile about the dimensions of the gap and logistics of it all. The gap was 6 feet across and 3 feet high. I am barely 5 feet tall, how was I supposed to do that? At the moment I was content with being cute and made Cris carry and place me safely on the other side.
Then a large heavyset woman in a motorized wheelchair pulled up to us.
“What are you guys doing?” she demanded.
I thought she was being very familiar, as if we were her kids, jumping naughtily on the bed.
“We’re trying to see if she can jump the gap,” Cris pointed.
She glanced at the gap and said, “Oh yea, you can make that easily.”
“No way!” I exclaimed. I could feel my knees shaking, already thinking about the blood that would spew from them if I tried to make the leap.
“Why not?” she insisted. Wasn’t I just having this conversation with Cris?
“Well, I’m short and I just think it’s too far. I wouldn’t be able to clear it.”
“Who says?” she shot back.
I opened my mouth and shook my head and shrugged. I had no words. Who was this stranger telling me what to do? She could sense my uneasiness. Or maybe it was something more like fear.
“Look, if you got a running start, a really good running start, you can do it. You’d have to take off your flip flops, but you can definitely make it.”
“But what if I fall? Scrape or bang up my knee?”
“You won’t. Look, he’s right there to catch you,” she motioned to Cris. “All you gotta do is try.”
I shook my head vigorously.
She tried again, “All you gotta do is believe that you can. That’s all it is. Whatever’s telling you that you can’t. You need to stop that now. You gotta break through.”
A moment of silence passed. I looked at this stranger. On her wheelchair was everything she owned, bags of clothes, newspapers, and books. She was at least 200 pounds. In her right hand, she held a cracked, plastic magnifying glass to help her read her magazine. Her left leg was gone, and her left arm, no more than a stump. She was smiling.
Here I was, 29 years old, all my limbs intact, healthy and able-bodied, declaring to her the disbelief in the power and ability of my own body. I didn’t really want to attempt the jump, and it wasn’t about the fear of falling anymore. I knew that if I didn’t at least try, I was doing this stranger wrong. If she believed so steadfastly in me, I only wondered what great trials she’d overcome and what kind of belief it took her to triumph over them. Now it was my turn.
I looked toward the gorge and slowly walked backwards. Every couple feet or so, I stopped and gauged the distance – was this enough for a good, hard and fast run? I backed up even further, sliding my flip-flops off and hooking them onto my fingers. Finally, I came to just below half of the pool. It was time to let go. My heart was racing but I couldn’t back out on this now. They were both watching. More importantly, she was watching! Why did I care about she thought? But right at that moment, that’s all that mattered. If she believed in me, why couldn’t I?
I bent down and solemnly folded up the bottom of my jeans. I tied my hair back in a loose bun. You would think I was preparing for the Olympic long jump. Like a bull peering ahead to its matador, I picked my left foot and my then my right foot, scuffing the cement. This was it. Now or never.
I took a deep breath and ran as fast as I could. Wind in my hair, and the world whizzing past, I hurled myself forward over the divide. I stumbled and bumped my knee but to my amazement, I had made it to the other side.
“YEAH!!” Cris exclaimed.
“You did it!” The stranger shouted. “See- I told you!”
I turned around to look at my own Grand Canyon, it didn’t seem so big now. “Yea, I can’t believe it… ”
“You see, you stumbled there at the end. Why?” she asked.
“Well, because I panicked a bit. I didn’t think I was going to clear it.”
“Aha! But you did! If you had straightened your back when you landed, you would’ve been standing just perfect. Your feet were already there, but you doubted yourself and you came down on your knee.”
“She’s right! You had already made it!” Cris said.
“Yea… I think I remember feeling my feet on the cement.” I was still in disbelief.
She could see the shock in my eyes and asked, “Why is it so hard for you to believe that you can do that? Why you can do anything?”
I shrugged with my eyes downcast and said nothing. In my silence my head filled with the voices of teachers, my parents, friends, loved ones, all telling me I couldn’t do something. I couldn’t sing because I was off-key. I couldn’t play a sport because I wasn’t athletic. I couldn’t write because it wouldn’t make a living. After awhile, I started to believe I just simply couldn’t. The chasm and the doubt had penetrated me too deeply.
This stranger studied me and inched her wheelchair closer to me. Her eyes, warm and aglow with a light that came from somewhere else.
“Whatever they told you, you break that thinking now. You believe in whatever you want and with everything you got, and miracles can happen.” She smiled gently. “You just have to jump.”
She pulled a joystick back, reversed her wheelchair and left us. As spontaneously and serendipitously as she came, she was gone. My own guardian angel, motored fearlessly into the distance.
I looked to Cris, “Did you really think I could make the jump?”
“Of course. The only problem is, you didn’t.”