An Essay for UPenn Nursing

I am not a fan of March. It is my least favorite month of the year. The air continues to have a noticeable chill to it, the streets are often lined with the blackened remnants of a February snowfall, and people are still feeling sluggish from the winter holidays. 

This particular year in March, however, was partly the same, but mostly different from the 21 instances of March that I had previously experienced. As usual, I was on a spring holiday from school and the weather was just beginning to show hints of change from one season to the next. Instead of wandering through the wind-whipped, gritty streets of Manhattan, though, I was midway through a trip along the Eastern coast of South Africa. Instead of being at the center of everything, I found myself on the outskirts of nowhere in a town called Storms River that is known only for two things: having the world’s oldest tree in one of the world’s oldest forests and having the world’s highest commercial bungee jump site.

On this particular day in March I learned a very important lesson about myself: fear is least often the hindrance in life that I assumed it to be. Rather, fear is most often a catalyst for change and growth. Let me preface anything further by saying that, since childhood, I had been a feet-firmly-planted-on-the-ground, levelheaded, ridiculously cautious kind of girl. I cross the street with the light and I color inside the lines. Most importantly, I don’t throw myself off of bridges in foreign countries. Except until now…

On the outskirts of nowhere, in a small town called Storms River that is known only for two things, I decided that the world’s oldest tree in one of the world’s oldest forests wasn’t going anywhere. I opted, instead, to wait atop the arch of the Bloukrans Bridge, between the shallow river below and the N2 highway above, until it was my turn.

I like to imagine that this decision was the result of a moment of temporary insanity or the Scottish tourists who plied me with the hackneyed “you only live once”. Most likely though, this particular March day was a breaking point; a day for breaking the rules, breaking out of the mold, breaking out of my shell. Always making the “safe” choice just wasn’t cutting it for me anymore. I felt that I wasn’t carving my own path in life by continuing to follow the proverbial road most traveled.

The view from the Bloukrans Bridge when 708 feet in the air is spectacular and every other compelling adjective one can think of. On one side the India Ocean spreads itself out; a watery blue blanket that both hugs the rocky shoreline and stretches far beyond the horizon. On the other side, Nature’s Valley is a lush spread of peaked mountains, verdant trees and grasses, and the steady babbling of the Bloukrans River. The image is so postcard-perfect that I almost don’t realize that I am hurtling downwards at 50 mph with nothing but elastic attached to my ankles. When I come to rest after the bouncing and jostling and sway whichever way the wind dictates, I convince myself that I am still alive and open my eyes. Everything, even the fear I feel, is upside down and it rushes towards my head from the pit of my stomach as I wait for a tiny Zulu man – my rescue – to lower himself towards me on what looks like a window washing seat?! The ascent is actually worse than the throwing-yourself-off-a-bridge part – it is painfully slow and there is plenty of time for me to take in every inch of those 708 feet. Nothing, not even the feel of solid ground beneath my feet, is sweeter than the thrill of knowing I survived my first-ever daredevil stunt.

I have since come to look at a lot of things through the lens of my bungee jump experience. When I face something particularly challenging or frightening, I remember falling 708 feet off of a bridge in South Africa. I remember that I survived. I remember the rush of adrenaline and exhilaration afterwards. These thoughts push me through tunnels, up hills, around obstacles and inspire me to attempt feats in my life that I may not have tried before: learning a new skill, taking a class, meeting new people, traveling to new places, or deciding on a career path. I can’t say that I’ve bungee jumped since that day in March, but I can say that I have learned to take careful, calculated risks, to hurdle the hard parts in life. I am much less fearful and much more resilient than I ever gave myself credit for, and taking that oft quoted “road less traveled” really has made all the difference.