There is a cliche I’m tempted to use when I try to describe the passing summer: harder than I thought but better than I expected. I think cliches are better expressed in stories. After all, aren’t cliches just familiar sentiments that we’ve chosen the same, typical ways of expressing? But our stories are all different.
I was the girl who camped with her friends instead of going to parties with them. Once we all slept on the lakeshore after gazing in awe at a meteor shower. It rained on us around midnight but we just ducked under our covers and laughed it off the next day when we shook the sand out of our blankets. One July we packed up and drove to the north shore of Lake Superior. We left at 3 am because we didn’t have reservations and we were banking on being there in time to get two non-reservable campsites. It was a gamble, but we were all together in a too-loud pickup truck eating fresh donuts and trying to keep each other awake and we were willing to take the risk.
The nights were cold and the days were foggy and even so the next morning we girls walked up to the boys campsite to see Caleb striding confidently out of the tent in a swimsuit. The rest of the boys trickled out after him, swaggering a bit with their damp towels over their shoulders. The river we camped on was horribly cold for July and even so there was a definite wall of colder water where the river met Lake Superior and somehow all the same, Caleb planned to go cliff jumping.
Sheri calmly declined. There may be a moment when peer pressure has caused Sheri to cave but I have not seen it. Anni and I looked at each other with wide eager eyes. We had no resistance. It was cliff jumping or a slow death of shameful cowardice. We got our swimsuits and followed the boys. We could hear our hearts pounding over the crunch of our flip-flops on gravel so we sang Dive by Steven Curtis Chapman to pump ourselves up and drown our fear.
We hovered on the edge of the gravely ledge while the boys jumped in line. Once, twice each. I looked down; I shook; I wavered. I thought of how cold the water would be. Worth it? And I imagined the adrenaline-filled glory of coming up the steps to my friends cheers. Worth it?
And then I jumped.
The water was harder than I pictured. It stabbed the soles of my feet and stung the undersides of my outflung arms. I fell farther than I imagined: There were deep heavy layers of water above me when I tried to swim back up. The breath I couldn’t breathe in caught in my throat as I tried to push the waves aside, to resurface. But the glory overwhelmed me. When my feet left the rocky soil I felt the wind in my hair. I felt myself falling with helpless joy. I scrambled onto the rough shore visibly trembling; there was an overwhelm of laughing courage inside so strong I barely heard the offered cheers.
Our feet squeaked against our wet flip-flops as we walked back to our tents. We were cliff jumpers.
That is how I would describe this summer. The long, arduous hours I expected were longer, more painful than I thought. They built resentment and frustration. I’m exhausted when I wake up every morning at 6. The weeks of E teething have been impossible. The times I spend with Grant have been rare, interrupted, disconnected, frustrating.
But the beauty has been overwhelming. Our marriage is stronger. We learned that “being in love” can’t carry us; we learned how to fight for each other in cups of coffee and spontaneous sushi dates and saying I’m sorry. I learned to play with Erik more; we read books and play chase and sometimes seek out the other littles to give me a break. The woods that looked like nothing but a dead burn scar this spring have been washed with the magic of wildflower meadows and red raspberries and baby Aspens like a thick green blanket. The close community has shocked and warmed me like the adrenaline and applause when I climbed out of Lake Superior four years ago.
This summer has stung me like hard cold water on my skin and emboldened me like laughing courage shared with old friends. Here’s to the life we create at camp. Here’s to the hard things we couldn’t imagine and the glory we feel and cannot fathom. Here’s to being cliff jumpers.
^ Anni and I, at Lake Superior. 2014.