I think this is the story. But it’s a story from when I was a kid so it could be wrong.
But I think this is the story:
We were on a raft in the Snake River in Wyoming. Mom, Dad, Bill, Nick and me. There was a raft guide and some nondescript strangers. The raft guide asked if anyone wanted to go for a swim. I wasn’t sure if he was serious or if this was a joke. It was August, but we were in the mountains. The lows in Yellowstone even in that most warm and sun-filled month dipped into the forties at night. And the river temperature? Sixties at best. Didn’t we just get a lecture about how dangerous this river is? This section is safe he said. He explained how to safely float in the river: on your back with your feet pointed down river. Nick didn’t hesitate or wait to ask questions. Splash. He was in the water. Another splash: there went Bill.
I don’t think of myself as a follower or the last person at the party. (Maybe you also don’t think of me this way.) But, as Walt Whitman said, we, each of us, contain multitudes. Sometimes I follow. Sometimes I reject possible futures for myself until someone else shows me how to open them up.
Someone asked me the other day how I got started surfing. And I hadn’t thought about it really but the question reminded me of the answer. The first time I surfed was in LA. I just wanted to try and it was fun, but—for obvious reasons—it seemed unfeasible to pursue as a hobby. I knew a few people in NYC who surfed, but still—I had enough sports as hobbies. And not a lot of money to spare. And not a lot of time to start something new.
Flash-forward a few years. (The characters are, once again: Mom, Dad, Bill, and Nick.) We’re in Costa Rica and we’re surfing. It’s Bill and Nick’s first time and they pick it up like pros (they both swam competitively and wake-boarded for what it’s worth.) They caught waves on their first day. All I could do was surf white water and it wasn’t even my first day.
I was so frustrated and annoyed and I hated them so much for being better than me. And all that competitiveness made me so determined, I thought—forget all my rules about money and time and when I’m too old to learn new things—I’ll surf. If they can do it, I can learn it too. And I realized competition can be more than competition. It can be, if you want, a glimpse of your possible future.
Of course I jumped in the river. Oh I was never going to get left on the boat.