For those of you who follow me on Instagram, you might recognize the man in this picture. I had an experience while I was away on vacation a couple of weeks ago that I’ve continued to think about, long after our bags were unpacked. I don’t know if I’ll be able to capture the essence of this experience. I’ll do my best.
We went to Martha’s Vineyard this year for our family vacation. We did the typical things that most people do while away on vacation…we played games, ate a lot, exercised, read, and we spent a lot of time swimming, shopping and exploring the island.
One of the highlights of the week turned out to be going to ‘the bridge‘ where a key scene from the movie Jaws was filmed. We spent a couple of hours there, snapping pictures as Emmy and her cousins along with Eddie and my brother jumped into the ocean. Some opted to jump once, others chose to jump over and over again.
Standing on the outside of the railing, wearing long pants and my son’s oversized oxford hand-me-down, the jump didn’t look that daunting to me. Then again, I wasn’t the one climbing up on the railing or leaping into the ocean. Kids and adults of all ages crowded next to each other on the bridge in anticipation, the air filled with the buzz that comes with contemplation of risk, fear and heights.
While I stood in my corner taking pictures of my family, I noticed a quiet man who stood nearby. Like me, he remained on the outside of the rail, his feet firmly planted on the ground. Physically, he looked prepared to jump…swim trunks, no shirt, towel nearby. Emotionally, however, he seemed indecisive.
Person after person plunged into the ocean from the bridge. I looked at the man and asked if he was going to jump. He smiled and simply said that he wish he knew the answer.
He eventually stepped away from the bridge, walked over to his towel, and as I watched him walk away, I asked him if he was leaving. He shrugged his shoulders and cracked a smile. He still wasn’t sure.
I returned my attention to Emmy and my nieces and continued to watch strangers somersault into the ocean. Time got fuzzy as did my attention.
And then, there he was. Out of nowhere, the man reappeared. He glanced my way when I noticed him, and smiled. I couldn’t help myself – I blurted out ‘you’ve got this’ and then lifted my phone and said, ‘and I’m going to document this for you.’
He smiled once again, and I smiled back.
I watched as he left the safety of the ground, and lifted himself up on the railing.
I watched as his gaze shifted from looking to his right at others to looking down into the ocean.
The moment of transformation and commitment.
Diving head-first into the unknown.
I know nothing about this man. I don’t know his name, where he’s from, or his background. I don’t know what motivated him to return to the bridge after walking away from it, or what he was saying to himself as he shifted from contemplation to action. After he emerged from the ocean, walked across the bridge and passed me to grab his towel and shirt, I held up my phone again and asked him for his cell so I could send him the photos. He gave me his number, I sent him the pictures, and the only other encounter we had is when I texted him to ask for his permission to share these pictures with you.
It’s quite possible that I’m putting my own spin on the whole experience. Maybe he was waiting for a friend, had jumped off the bridge a hundred times, or simply wasn’t ready to get wet. Maybe he wasn’t struggling to overcome fear. Maybe, the pictures that I shared with him made him smile, and then the text was deleted. Maybe, for the man, the pictures did not capture a story of courage, but instead felt like a documentation of fear. It’s his story, and sadly, I will never know the details.
What I like to imagine, however, is that I witnessed someone facing something that felt insurmountable, only to discover within himself the power of courage in its most raw form. Public yet anonymous, terrifying yet achievable. Fear, determination and bravery wrapped up in one head-first dive off a bridge into the ocean.
This story is one I see often in life. It’s the story of people who are fighting cancer and the people in their lives who stand by them throughout this journey. The biggest difference is that people fighting cancer don’t have a choice of whether to climb onto the railing or just lean against it from the outside and have the luxury of taking pictures. There are few choices when it comes to cancer, and turning your back and walking away simply isn’t an option.
The life lesson for me is to remain committed to taking action in every part of my life, whether it’s parenting, owning a business, being a wife (I mean this Collins…not just throwing you a bone), daughter, sister, friend, and neighbor. It’s why I continue to ride in and support the PMC as much as possible. While I personally cannot cure cancer, I can be there to help, to hold someone’s hand and help them balance on the railing when life forces them to that stance. Hell, if you need me to jump with you, I’m there. We’ve got this.