The Plunge

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Elliott Shaw
The Plunge


My heart was pounding, like a panicked animal trying to smash its way out of my chest. I was terrified, but I couldn’t let anyone realize it. I became aware that someone was saying my name. It was distant, muffled, as if I was listening to someone speak while I was under water. It was my father. “Are you ready?” he asked, a look of concern etched on his face. I took a deep breath, nodded unwillingly and stepped backwards.

It was the fourth day of Camp Hemlock, a father-son camp. Everyone was buzzing about the trip to the lake and the giant rappelling cliff. I had signed up earlier in the week, my seven year old mind easily swept up in the rush and excitement to get my name on the Rappelling Sheet. As I sat at my table eating lunch, I contemplated my decision. I hadn’t considered my fear of heights when I had eagerly scribbled my name down on the signup sheet. It was too late to erase my stupid mistake. The other boys would think I was soft, a patsy. I considered pretending to be sick, but then I would be forced to go home. I would have to get over my fears, be a man, and go through with my commitment.
As I got on the bus to go to the lake, the fear rose in me like a fire, burning away my confidence and self assurance, threatening to overwhelm me. I forced it down, and managed to force myself into a model of outer composure that wouldn’t betray the turmoil taking place inside. I talked with fellow campers on the bus, but my mind was elsewhere. It was on the giant rock face, looking down at the ground that appeared to be miles away. As the bus slowed to a stop and everyone began piling out excitedly, my mind snapped back to reality.
Campers yelled with joy and excitement when the lake came into view and everyone made a mad dash for it. I sat in the water pondering what was to come. Would I panic on the spot and humiliate myself? Or would I somehow find the courage to step backwards off the cliff?
As time passed the camp counselors began calling groups to go to the rappelling cliff. “Group Three!” the head counselor yelled. I rose from the water, numb. I mechanically went through the process of drying myself. The fire in me began stirring again, and this time I didn’t even try and suppress it. Soon it was a raging inferno, robbing me completely of my confidence. As we climbed the hill to the rappelling cliff I felt hollow, zombie like. I was completely numb, the fire replaced by a dull, icy fear. I got strapped in and stepped to the edge.
“Turn around.” The instructor said gently.
It was then that my heart became the panicked animal. After my father asked me if I was ready, I began to lean back. Every muscle in my body screamed in protest. I was going against every natural instinct, but I had to ignore the internal panic and focus. Somehow I managed to do just that. It was then that I stepped backwards. I felt the air whoosh in my ears as I dropped into empty space. I did as I had been told, stopped myself, kicked off the rock and dropped several more feet. My heart was still pounding, not from fear, but from a thrilling excitement. I repeated the process until I reached the bottom. I was thoroughly thrilled with myself. Now that memory of rappelling is one of my favorites. It taught me that no matter what fear or doubt I had, if I had the will, I could triumph over it.





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