I am a culmination of experiences.
In some respects, I could say that my first experience happened the minute I could remember it, when I could rewind the sensation, the people, the smells, and the place and recreate it in my mind. Then not long after I walked directly from one experience into the next. It was impossible to live without experiencing the sound of cars, the rustling of the trees, the drops of rain. I couldn’t ignore the heat of midday, or the gestures and voices of people around me. The emotion I felt watching sister’s fighting or hearing parents yelling.
When I was younger I experienced the world through play, interacting with others, and doing things I didn’t know how to do. I laughed at bubbles flying through the air and wondered why I’d fallen off my bike and banged my knee. I was enrolled in dance classes and athletics, camps and music lessons.
Then in my twenties I experienced the world like a fly caught in a web. Paralyzed by insecurity so much so that every experience seemed like it was happening to me. The world I had come to know was like a long sigh of dissatisfaction. No longer did the smell of summer or the first firefly send electricity up my spine, nor did seeing one person helping another one on the street make me smile. I didn’t give big bear hugs to friends and family or join clubs or do anything new of any kind.
For ten years I walked around in my own experiences. Not paying attention. Not opening myself up to new things or people, shying away from anything uncomfortable, or that would make me feel anything at all. Thinking that a hard shell was the solution to feeling less than. And then at thirty-one my best friend died unexpectedly.
What his death did was make it impossible for me not to feel. Not only not to feel, but hide. I would be in the grocery store and breakdown in the peanut butter aisle or leaning against a building on 12th street balling. And once I started I no longer wanted to stop. And all I’ve wanted to do since is experience absolutely everything. Now I look at bubbles and laugh when they pop. I stomp my feet and scream if I’m frustrated. I cry if I’m sad. I dance whenever music makes me feel. I’ve let go of being afraid of who I am, but more so of who I’m not. I’ve loaded up with enough courage to remember myself, to see myself, and to care for myself.
It was a couple weeks ago when I went to the gym to go swimming that I realized how the fear of being out of our comfort zone is what stops many of us from experiencing what we want. I walked down the stairs and stared at the water. I had never done this before. It was an infinity pool, so, basically, a treadmill for swimmers. I sat down and let my legs dangle over the edge into the water. I looked around to see if I could locate a button, any kind of lever to pull. I laughed as I got up and looked around. Then I saw a blue nozzle and two buttons on either side of it. I pressed the one button and water started shooting out from the sidewalls, but there was no current for me to swim in. A man came out of the sauna. “Excuse me,” I said, “have you ever done this before? How do I turn it on?” The man leaned down and turned the blue nozzle. “Ah, I see now. Thanks.” “Not a problem.” He said.
It took me a while to get comfortable in the water, but after ten minutes I found my stride. After a half hour I jumped out and felt alive because I had done something I’d never done before. I walked into the changing area and a girl asked, “Did you just go swimming?”
“Yeah,” I shook my head trying to get the water out of my ear, “I’d never done it before. It’s fun. You should try it.”
“I’ve wanted to, but I wouldn’t know what I was doing. The infinity pool is too intimidating.”
What I wanted to tell her was that’s exactly why she should do it, because it’s doing the things that make us feel that we need more of in our lives. We need them to reassure ourselves that we’re here and we’re listening. We need new experiences to move away from self-doubt and toward self-confidence. And what we also need is to remember that everything is new for somebody at some point, and that each person has the power to teach another.
About to leave I turned to her. “You should try it.” I said. “At least to have a new experience. I mean how often do we have those?”
Eleanor Roosevelt said to do one thing every day that scares you. I don’t think it has to be scary, but it should make you feel something. Because the only way to experience the world is to feel within it.