Learning to Fly

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain 

I stood on the deck of a small boat off the coast of Cozumel, Mexico. The sea, glowing turquoise, the sky azure blue without a cloud to break the intensity of the tropical sun lighting up the ocean view. Snorkel in hand, swim fins on my feet, I felt the soft breeze on my skin.

Joyous and peaceful, one would think.

I was terrified!

Nearly twenty years earlier, as a little girl, I had nearly drowned in a local reservoir. As my head went under, as I struggled for breath that day in water that was packed with people oblivious to my distress, a hand appeared from somewhere and pulled me to safety. For nearly two decades, deep water and I were not the best of friends. The swim lessons I had taken prior to that event stopped, and as much as I loved the water, I couldn’t swim well and didn’t like to be in any water, natural or pool, over my head.

The snorkeling adventure was an optional trip offered by the group running our tour. Optional – I signed up for this.

The morning of the plane ride from Cancun to Cozumel, I decided that I wasn’t feeling well enough to go. One of our tour guides was having none of that, taking me to breakfast for toast, and putting me on the four-seater plane with a smile.

So, there I stood, one foot on the railing, the sea beckoning me, my heart wanting to jump in, my brain disagreeing wholeheartedly.

Suddenly a sense of calm came over me.

I thought, “I’ll either drown, or I’ll be just fine.”

I took the leap.

Since I’m writing this all these years later, it’s clear that I was just fine. In fact, it was one of the most spectacular days of my life, swimming in the clear watery silence with the brightly hued fish and the moray eels.

What keeps us from living the possibilities in our life? What keeps us from the joy, the accomplishments we might experience?

Fear. Or FEAR… false evidence appearing real. Worry about the past, about the future, might have prevented me from joy. Without my experience that particular day, I might never have learned to swim, as I did not long after the trip.

It is not unreasonable to expect that a childhood trauma might impact us in adulthood. Not unreasonable for me to be terrified, to have butterflies in my stomach. What we must do is teach those butterflies to fly in formation. It helps when someone reaches out a hand to save you, as the mystery individual did that day at the reservoir. Like the tour guide did in a very different way when he encouraged me to get on that plane.

Yet ultimately, it is our choice to take the leap of faith. Take it, and maybe you can learn to fly. Or swim.

“When you come to the end of all the light you know, and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: Either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly.” – Edward Teller

susan schirl smith
Susan Schirl Smith is a writer, photographer and holistic nurse based in New Hampshire. Her essays have been published in Cognoscenti, Pangyrus, Silver Birch Press and The Journal of Holistic Nursing. Her photography has been featured in Barren Magazine and L’Ephemere Review. Smith’s current manuscript is Desperado, a memoir of her brother. You can follow Susan on her website or Facebook.

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