“It’s perfectly safe,” I told myself. I was standing on a bridge 160 feet above a swiftly flowing, silky green river. “Hundreds of people do this every year.”
I had picked up a small pebble in the unpaved lot; now I took it out of my pocket and tossed it over the side of the bridge, watching it all the way down. Despite my positive self-talk I became firmly convinced, watching that pebble fall, and being unable to see where it landed, that sensible people do not hurl themselves off of bridges. Nevertheless, after neither Bekah nor I would back down first (allowing the other to save face), that is what we did.
What makes a person take that kind of risk? Whether the motivation involves adrenaline, a good Youtube video, or double-dog daring on the part of the coolest person you know, it hardly seems worth trusting an oversized rubber-band to keep body and soul together.
It’s funny how much of life is like bungee jumping for the first time. Maybe you approach major life decisions by sort of scoping out the bridge, analyzing the options and weighing the worst-case scenarios. Finally, you sign the insurance waver—your first step toward surrendering your body to gravity. “Bungee Mike” and his crew strap you into multiple safety harnesses and instruct you very seriously not to fidget with the carabineers, “And whatever you do, don’t grab the rope.” Let go of everything and just step off? You must be crazy.
You do an uncertain sort of dance at the edge: at this point, 160 feet up in the air, you’ve still got a chance to back down. Your big, scary, possibly irrevocably life-changing decision can be put off. All you have to do is swallow your pride, unclench your fists and move away from the ledge. The crowd on the bridge is counting down, but you can still step back into safety…or outward into danger.
Why on earth would you step out? Human beings weren’t made for running knowingly into danger—not this one, anyway. I’m made for books on rainy days, hot soup on rainy nights, flower-picking and hand holding in the springtime, and kissing on a bridge at sunset, not bungee jumping off of one. Remember reading Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in General Psych? Bodily safety is only one higher up on the pyramid from physiological basics like air and food. Humans have a need to feel safe from harm before they can go on to pursue whatever else in life like small comforts, love and acceptance, desires and goals. Jumping off a bridge seems like the exact opposite of that.
But without risk, there is no chance of reward. With bungee-jumping, the payoff was threefold: 1) the adrenaline pumping, knee shaking high that overtook me as I was pulled back onto the platform, 2) bragging rights: let’s be honest—who doesn’t want to be able to drop “last weekend, when I went bungee jumping” into casual conversation, and 3) the sense of accomplishment that comes from chipping away at a personal weakness like a fear of heights.
Sometimes I feel like the stories I read or see at the movies create a false perception of the risk to reward ratio. We like to hear the happy ending stories (both real and fictional) of greatness achieved or gambles that beat the odds. But for every William the Conqueror, there is a Godwinson, and for every Powerball winner there are a million losers.
In all areas of life, there is no sure thing. One of my favorite lines in literature is the conversation between Mr. Beaver and the Pevensie children in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. The children have just learned that they must go meet Aslan the lion, and they ask for assurance that this wild animal is tame and safe. “Safe?” responds Mr. Beaver, quite shocked at the suggestion. “’Course he’s not safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” It reminds me that reaching only for what’s safe may in fact be a rather empty way to live. Perhaps in personal calling, in relationships, and in my spiritual life, there may be something greater than mere security.
The idea reminds me of something else C.S. Lewis wrote—in The Four Loves:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung, and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in a casket or coffin of your own selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.
It would be fabulous if Bungee Mike’s success guarantee applied to the rest of my life. I’d like something that says, “Our safety rating is 100%–the rope has never broken.” Why, oh why, can’t real life be like bungee jumping? So with nothing in writing—no assurance of a safe and happy outcome, should I still jump?