Eye of the Chicken
A journal of Harbin, China

Going off the high dive
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When I think of new challenges in life, I'm always reminded of being a little kid and jumping off the high dive at the local swimming pool. First, you get the idea to do it. Then you go stand in line, and while you stand in line you think of absolutely anything but the high dive.

And then it's your turn to climb the stairs. That butterfly-inducing mixture of fear and excitement grips you. And up you climb, stomach clenching. And - inevitably - at the top of the stairs, things look a lot different than they did at the bottom. People are smaller. The pool looks barely big enough to hold you; it crosses your mind that if you do something horribly wrong, you'll smack down on concrete. And if you do something a little wrong, you're going to end up with a whole heck of water up your nose (or elsewhere) and a stinging back from smacking the water wrong. And all of a sudden, once the possiblity of pain pushes itself into your consciousness, going off the high dive starts to seem a lot less interesting . . . but of course, you HAVE to go; there's a whole pool full of people who will see you climb back down the ladder - not to mention what your friends might say. So you jump. There's just a moment where you have to overcome all your resistance, and do it.

I kind of feel like that today. My flight leaves at 6 pm, and I'm all packed and wandering around the house, thinking, "What if X happens while I'm gone?" It's not the cataclysmic stuff that worries me; if something truly awful were to happen, I'd just catch the next flight home. But we have a lot of pets, a couple of whom might conceivably not make it another six months . . . and I'm worried about my daughter, who needs me now. Nothing's worrisome enough to make me climb back down the stairs, metaphorically speaking - but it's just amazing how this ALWAYS happens. It's part of the process.

And of course, it isn't really the possibility of the cataclysmic that bothers me; it's quite the ordinary that gets to me. I'm going to China so that China can change me, in some very specific ways. First, there's the food. I think Chinese food is a lot healthier, and I want to switch my diet over to a more Chinese way of eating. So I want to learn to cook in a way that I can sustain when I return. And second, there's the whole matter of materialism. Over there, people just aren't as materialistic as we are, because they can't be. Lots more to say about that, and I will, over the coming months - but let me just mention now that poverty is such a familiar experience to people there that poverty is not a crime. There's a long way between excess materialism and poverty, but attitudes about both are very linked, at least in this country. I'm sure they're linked in China, but differently than here.

If I succeed at these endeavors, I will be changed. I will have adopted the Chinese way of thinking for a little while and allowed it to soak in. When I come back, my world and the people in it will look different. Hopefully, I'll be a better person for the experience . . . and I'm counting on the fact that the people closest to me will be okay with the changes. (Especially my dear, dear husband, who manages to be supportive while at the same time thinking I've gone off the beam . . . )

So. In about eight hours, I'll jump. I'd jump even if you weren't watching me because I know the nerves for the phantoms they are. If it were the high dive, I'd whip myself into a frenzy and run off the end before I could stop myself. I wish I could run onto the plane right now, the same way. But I can't do that, and so for the next eight hours, I just have to sit with these butterflies.

Guess I'll go futz with my carry-on bags. I'll report back in Chicago and LA and Seoul, if I can get internet from those places. (Only sure thing is Seoul.) Catch you soon, from the other side of the world . . .

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