A friend asked me recently how my nomadic life was turning out. I cheerfully replied, “So far, so good!” He smiled and quickly filled in with, “… said the man who jumped off the Eiffel tower, halfway down.”
He said it in jest and with no malice, but the line still stuck with me. How can we be sure that we are not falling?
In the particular situation of the metaphor, most people would look down, see the ground coming towards them, remember the term ‘terminal velocity’ from their physics lessons, cross-reference that lesson with other pieces of experiences and correctly draw the conclusion that there will be a squishy sound at the bottom that he or she will never hear. (Or maybe it will be last thing they hear; perhaps something for a school science project to determine?)
But there are times when we have moved so far from our normal frame of reference that we just can’t tell anymore. My new nomadic life feels great and I think I am in control, but how can I be certain that I am not hurtling towards a sudden and crushing stop? Things are so dizzyingly new that I barely know what will happen next month, let alone in a few years.
The inimitable Douglas Adam illustrates this wonderfully in his falling Sperm Whale scene from the brilliant Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where a newly created sperm whale tries to make sense of his new and short existence. When you watch it, think of how you’d feel if you left your current life and began a new one as a rootless nomad.
Am I a sperm whale, too far removed from my natural element to realize that he’s falling to his doom? Will I end up living next to a dumpster, scavenging for scraps of food after I burnt both money and career chasing some stupid nomadic dream, or perhaps stuck in a foreign prison on clearly fabricated charges of indecent exposure?
Who knows? What I do know, however, is that if you let the fear of falling keep you from ever taking a leap of faith, then you’ll never get anywhere new and exciting.
We are all falling
For those of you on a ‘high denial/low cynicism’ diet, quit reading now. For the rest, consider this cheerful quote by Samuel Becket in Waiting for Godot:
They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.
You don’t get more depressing than that. It is true though; we are all falling into old age and eventually death. But if that fall is all we have, why not make the most of it? Spice it up with some spectacular somersaults and titillating twists! After all, ‘so far, so good!’ is preferable to ‘so far, so boring.’