My sister calls them the -INGs: sports widely considered to be “too risky” for a “southerner” like her. She is obnoxiously athletic; she’s an All-American track star from one of the most popular D1 athletic programs in the nation, and her stomach resumed its rock hard state only three weeks after she gave birth to each of my nieces. Still, the INGs were things she would joke about as sports reserved for “those” who are driven by risk. These include but are not limited to skydiving, bungee jumping, white water rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, alligator fishing, etc. It’s no surprise then that when I called her to tell her that I had gone kayaking a while back she laughed for nearly ten minutes. We then reminisced about our teenage conversations on nights when we lay awake in our parallel twin beds, too giddy to sleep. “I see you’ve become one of those,” she teased me.
(I have been talking about skydiving for a while and plan to bungee jump once I find someone I trust enough to be strapped to me. I don’t want to jump alone.)
Kayaking was random. I received an email invitation to go kayaking on the Hudson River by a girl I had met through a mutual friend and decided to go. As much as I talk about participating in ING sports, I have really never gotten around to it. I’ve started to run again and do yoga every time I have a chance to break away from my laptop, but I sometimes lean (too much) on the luck of my genes and natural athleticism as an excuse, and admit that I do not work out as much as I (probably) should. New York has so much to offer and I am sometimes so consumed with work that I don’t enjoy it nearly as much.
I made myself go that day. After an anxious day at work I went to the Pier where I was given a life vest, a paddle and a waiver to sign in the event that I drowned. They didn’t want to be responsible.
It wasn’t until I was an inch away from my kayak that I became afraid. I thought about what I was doing and began to internally process my options if the kayak did in fact flip over or I rowed incorrectly, or worse, if the river waves would be a challenge for me to swim if I fell. The deck actually swayed, so upon stepping on it and dealing with the attack of those thoughts, I almost reneged on agreeing to participate in my odd afternoon adventure. However, it was then that I actually considered something I had read in Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” something I’d contemplated for two weeks after I closed the book. In the story the protagonist was a successful court judge and it was not until he was faced with death that he realized the great tragedy of his seemingly fruitful and luxurious life–that none of it had been real–that he was going about life as he thought he should have been, rather than following his instincts or giving attention to desires that arose in him, desires that were ignored because they did not align with what was considered normal or proper. He had a beautiful, intelligent and popular wife whom he hated, children who he didn’t understand, and was a luckily successful middle son in 1861(?) upper middle-class Russia. This was normal so this was what he lived until he faced death and realized that former guests of his parties, his wife, even doctors were in denial of his suffering; because in recognizing this sadness and prospective loss they were distracted from their own “normal” lives, something happy people hate to do.
I ask myself: If so much of our lives–from people we associate with, jobs, partners, neighborhoods we live in–are predetermined by standards of groups we either fight to belong to or were born into–then how much of ournaturalselves, how many of us really know who we are without the burden of those standards? How have I lived as I thought I “should” and what instances have I denied myself what or who I really wanted because they did not fit? I owe it to myself to try everything. I owe it to myself to think for myself, to know myself in a way that makes sense to me and not to groups or systems.
I got on–I finally faced one of my fears (drowning) amidst remnants of traveling yacht waves. Somewhere between the first ache in my shoulder and stepping back onto the deck after watching the sun set behind the Jersey skyline, I realized that my instincts had always been correct. My odd adventures fill me. My fears run from me when I stand up to them. I also have desires to explore the INGs, to know nature and this world more fully, to dive and jump and climb and row as far as I can fall into the face of God.