I’ve never been afraid of the water. As a toddler, I splashed around in the bathtub blowing bubbles and testing how long I could keep my nose and mouth under water.
As a child, I came close to passing the Junior Lifeguard certification test. I learned to float on my back and tread water for 10 minutes. I could stand on the bottom of the deep end of the pool. To this day, I can easily hold my breath for a minute and a half.
Once, on a work trip, I swam dangerously far out and was called back in by a lifeguard’s warning about riptides. Due to the strong current, the trip back took twice as long and five times the effort. When I got back to shore, I heard my coworker yelling my name. She almost drowned in those same Florida riptides I’d just escaped. She was hospitalized to ensure she did not die of pneumonia from the ocean water that filled her lungs. The next summer, I was back in the ocean.
Though I fearlessly faced the bathtub, the pool, and the ocean, I would not jump from the high dive. That refusal forever prohibited me from obtaining the esteemed Junior Lifeguard certification. Three years later, though too late for the certification, I finally faced my fear and jumped off the high diving board. I screamed the whole way down, splashed into the water, then climbed out and did it again. The fear was gone.
With Corsicana pools reopening, that memory resurfaced as I wondered what I was afraid of. It wasn’t the water, and of course I wasn’t afraid of the air. I wasn’t even afraid of being up in the air, I bounced on the diving board to test it out. I wasn’t afraid of dying either, that thought never occurred to me.
I realized I was afraid of falling. I didn’t like those seconds of being surrounded by air with nothing to grab. I’d jumped off the low diving board plenty of times, but to a four foot tall child, the high diving board might as well be a skyscraper.
This fear resurfaced for a few moments yesterday. I’m writing a Christmas musical and decided to set a deadline on Facebook for finishing the script. It’s a huge undertaking to write 10 songs and 15 scenes. As soon as I posted my deadline, fear filled my stomach.
Who do you think you are?
You’re not a playwright.
You won’t finish by the deadline.
As I remembered the high dive jump, I realized, those thoughts were the same as the ones that prevented me from the joy of diving off the board and kept me from achieving Jr. Lifeguard. In the same way that I feared falling, I was afraid to leap into the unknown world of finishing a full length musical. After all, what if I belly-flopped!
I wrote and directed my first play in kindergarten. Though I couldn’t write many words yet, I directed my neighborhood friends in the backyard. Me whispering lines and stage directions while my father stood at the back patio door draped in a blanket and holding his morning coffee as he watched my production unfold. He always responded the same.
I’ve written several one-act plays and more than a hundred songs, and I’ve directed a few productions. I even wrote a really bad one-woman show that my family graciously witnessed. I’ve dreamed of seeing my musical on stage for years. COVID-19 has taught me that dreams and passions are important. Passions give life meaning and joy, and connect us to others.
So, if my musical isn’t finished by May, I’ll set a new goal for July. And if it’s terrible, I’ll rewrite. But passions must be pursued. I’d rather live risking failure than wonder what I could have been. At 53, I know I’m a bit late to this party… but I’m still suited up with my goggles on.
Pursuing passions is about walking to the end of the diving board and jumping.
Pam C. Dudley, MSW, LCSW (formerly Pam Neal), is a writer, stage director, social worker, and CBT certified therapist pursuing the creative life in Corsicana, Texas. She is most passionate about sharing the love of Christ, helping people heal from hurts, and writing musicals!