Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Summoning Her Courage

The girl was standing on a table near the entry gate to the playground contemplating the distance to the ground. Her friends had already jumped off, leaving her behind in their pell mell downhill dash. She had seen her friends do it. They had landed on their feet, they had not fallen, they had not been hurt, yet she wasn't so sure about herself. If she was going to jump, she was going to have to take a chance, which is, to act without sufficient information. She was frozen there, right on the edge, not yet willing to jump and not yet willing to give up on the jump.

This is the human condition in a nutshell. There are the things we do, the predictable things, the things that we can do in our sleep. There are the things we don't do because they seem unpleasant or downright hazardous. And then there are those things we want to do, but there are enough unknowns that we are frightened, often into the sort of frozen state of this girl standing at the table's edge.

If the girl was going to jump, she would be taking a chance. In her mind there was a fairly equal opportunity for joyful success or painful failure.

The poet and author Marge Piercy wrote, "All human acts are committed on insufficient information."  As the girl stood there trying to summon the courage to leap off into the unknown, I was tempted to call out to her, "Go for it!" or to walk over and offer my hand, but she wasn't asking for help. Indeed, she was deeply focused on the moment, wrestling with her doubts, summoning her courage, dealing with the fact of her insufficient information.

In the end, she elected to climb cautiously down from the table. This too was a human act, one undertaken with insufficient information. Once back on the ground, however, she raced after her friends, joining them at the bottom of the hill, once more a part of their game. She may never return to take that chance, but she will take chances because to be human is to have insufficient information and to act nevertheless. And it's from these moments, in large measure, that we later, in the clear vision of hindsight, are able to piece together the story of our lives.

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