She seemed lonely, this little girl, immediately targeting Steve and Owen and I as Friendly People To Talk To (and clearly she was not getting this vibe from me, you all know that, right?); she floated by us in the pool for a really long time, bobbing along next to Owen with their matching orange water wings, asking where we lived and how long it took us to get there. After listening very intently to Steve give her the salient details, she wisely nodded her head and said, “I only know Jerome, Idaho. That sounds like another world to me.” I think she must have been about six, so to her, the distance of 80 miles probably is another world to her. She flirted with both Steve and Owen in a way that only sweet little girls can, innocent and shy. Me, she sent sidelong glances far more adult than one would expect from a child, as if establishing what possible threat I might pose to her. Still, after she kept trying to fix the valves on her water wings so they would stop poking her in the armpits and I helped her with them, I was suddenly just a mom and she warmed up to me. Her parents were there, too, just out of reach but still watching closely as she paddled around us and inveigled herself into our little group. Smiling at us, sending us the questioning glances that clearly say, “Is she bothering you?” while I sent glances back saying,”No, she is fine.”
Later, she kept going to the high dive and climbing up, only to stand there for a few minutes and turn around and go back down. This happened probably five or six times in a row, this brave little girl going to the edge and looking over, then shaking her head and backing away. Several times she got all the way to the end and jumped a little, bouncing on the board a bit, but she just couldn’t make herself take that leap. I noticed that every time she climbed back up, people were stopping their playing to watch her, the entire pool holding its collective breath each time as she got just a little bit closer.
Finally, she was there on the very edge, in her bike shorts and bikini top, her chubby little girl tummy sticking out, her eyes closed in concentration. She wasn’t an especially striking child, indistinguishable from any other mildly cute little girl, but standing on the edge with her eyes screwed shut, balancing on her toes, she was beautiful. She stood there, trying to gather up the nerve to jump, and just stopped. The entire pool had become dead quiet, even the smallest of us just watching; and she bounced a little more, bounced again, and stopped. She opened her eyes, looked over the edge, and her shoulders slumped. She turned to go back down, the poor little defeated girl realizing that she just wasn’t going to make it, and I would tell by the look of her body that she wasn’t going to be trying again.
Someone, somewhere in the room, started speaking, quietly, “Come on, you can do it. Jump.” Since the room was already silent, the voice carried-it sounded like a child, but everyone heard it. “Jump,” the voice said, and it was a plea. The hidden voice of every person in that room-and there were probably 100 people altogether-crying out for the times each of us has been afraid to jump; off a high dive, into a relationship, out of a relationship, into anything that is too big and too scary to face alone, the voice crying out to each one of us who has had to face some personal demon. Slowly, slowly, another voice joined, and another, until every single person in the room was chanting, “Jump, jump.”
She stopped halfway across the board and turned around, and I could see her back straighten up as she looked at all of us watching her, heard our combined voices giving her support and encouragement, and she walked to the edge again. She didn’t close her eyes this time, but instead kept them wide open and excited; she arched her back gracefully and stood on her toes and bounced; once, twice, three times and one of the most beautiful dives I have ever seen. No form, a huge splash, but perfect in every way.
In the few seconds between the dive and her resurface, the room was quiet again; each one of us holding our breath with her, feeling the way the water engulfed her head and the way the surface shimmered underwater. When her head broke the surface, the room erupted in cheers and shouts and the sound of clapping hands, and I know I wasn’t the only one crying.
I don’t think I have ever seen something quite that moving, and I still tear up when I think about it. This little girl who only knows Jerome, Idaho touched a lot of lives that day. Persistence and courage, the fact that if you have people supporting you and cheering you on you can face even the biggest fears. That sometimes, standing on the edge, the only thing you can do is to close your eyes and jump.
***I also have a new post up here. Call me a blog whore if you will, but there is talk of this particular Moms blog being pulled, and we who contribute really don’t want to see that happen. So go read and comment, please.