Wednesday, December 21, 2011
There are some things you dread. With just the thought of them your entire body convulses, and your mind, for a brief moment, is overcome with fear. At the same time, these are the things you are drawn to. Although you’re afraid of them, it is the emotion of fear that compels you to them. These are often the risks we take – or do not take – in life, when we step outside our comfort zone, when we seek a thrill or danger. One of these things, for me, was jumping off the infamous waterfalls in Montezuma.
“About half a dozen people have died attempting to jump off the Montezuma Waterfalls.”
These were the words I read in the Costa Rica Lonely Planet. Although I read this three months ago, having no plans to travel to the difficult-to-get-to Hippie beach town on the Pacific Coast, I still felt an acute anxiety rise inside my stomach as these words leapt out from the page at me. I’ve bungee jumped without hesitation; I climbed Mount Fuji in the middle of a typhoon. So what was it about these waterfalls? One thing that didn’t help was when a friend told me how she hurt her back from not jumping correctly, and how she still felt water inside her ear two months after she took the plunge. No problem, I thought, I just wouldn’t go to Montezuma. Or so I told myself.
With the school year coming to a close, and vacation approaching, my roommate, Jacob, and I planned out our final trip together, before he headed back to the US: party in the international town of Samara, chill on the beach in Jaco, and…visit Montezuma. In the days leading up to the trip, my inner-Woody Allen began to rise to the surface. As we took the beautiful ride down the Pacific Coast from Samara to Montezuma, I found that inner feeling of anxiety bubbling in my stomach.
The hike to the falls was one of the more difficult I had ever done – or at least, one of the most dangerous. We ended up veering off the path and hiking up some pretty intense steeps. A rocky river roared below us as we scaled a cliff, trying not to think about what would happen if we slipped. Man was my heart pounding when I made it to the top.
Then we got to the waterfall. I’m perfectly satisfied swimming in the cool water, I thought. I wasn’t going to do any sort of jumping. Definitely not.
Then Jacob did it. Without hesitation, he scaled the rocks like a monkey, and leaped. And I found myself, somehow, at the water’s edge.
I wasn’t as high as Jacob. But still, it took me a few minutes, sitting on that ledge, to summon up all the courage I had. And eventually, I jumped.
When I teach creative writing, I often open with a short story I wrote where the main character overcomes his fear. This sort of thing makes for great storytelling, I tell my students. But no matter how hard a fiction writer may try to escape into his imagination, he will always have to reenter the real world, stop living vicariously through his characters (or as a teacher, through his students), and confront himself, overcome doubts, and take on challenges. As I climbed higher, and leaped again, my anxiety and sense of adventure met, and I faced my fear – the same emotion I felt as I got onto the airplane to come here, knowing I’d be living in an unknown land. Fears are there to be conquered. By overcoming ours fears, we can become as strong as a mighty waterfall.