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Cliff Diving

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My brother, Tristan, has an outgoing and electric personality. He has passion-infused blue eyes, a smile that dispels fear, and an affinity for risk. One autumn day we decided to get together at the self-proclaimed City of Magnolias – Durant, Oklahoma – where my brother attends college at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. A lot of our friends were headed to Durant with me, where we were planning to spend the night in the basement of the Baptist Collegiate Ministries building after a day of cliff diving.

When I first heard of cliff diving from my brother, I was a little alarmed for him, as his exploits have been known to cross the line between risky and unwise.

“It’s not that bad,” he reassured my mother and me, and I could share that notion to a certain extent. A few years prior we had swung into the Feather River in California from a rope suspended to a railway truss 50 feet above the water, but that memory did not eradicate my concern for our safety.

There are many life experiences that involve risk, and one needs to evaluate how to approach those potentially dangerous situations. Cliff diving is one such situation, to be handled with care, as we soon discovered. We arrived in Durant and changed into swimming trunks before heading over to the site of our expected adrenaline rush: an abandoned rock quarry. My brother explained what would happen.

“Coleman [the place we were driving to] used to be a huge rock quarry. The company that owned it drilled hundreds and hundreds of feet into the ground, but they hit an aquifer unexpectedly, and the mine began to fill with water. It filled up so quickly that they had to abandon a lot of their heavy equipment; there are backhoes and stuff at the bottom.”

“How tall are the cliffs?” I asked.

“They range from about 20 feet above the water to about 70.”

“Have people jumped off those before?”

“I think someone might have jumped off the taller ones, but they might have broken their arm or something.” We would stick with the smaller cliffs.

We arrived at Coleman and a group of guys piled out of my parents’ E-350 Club Wagon. In front of us the ground was strewn with enormous boulders, some dark and sharp-edged, beyond which was the cliff from which we would propel ourselves into the water. We clambered over the rocks to a clearing at the edge of the miniature lake and looked out. Crystal clear, blue-grey water had filled much of the crater created by the quarry business. Fish swam beneath us. Both of these signs indicated that the water was probably safe to swim in.

While the water was serene, we had to make certain that the jump spot was safe as well. We looked below to ensure that no jagged protrusions of rock would catch us on the way down, and we investigated the launch site to make sure that no loose rocks or gravel would trip us as we jumped off.

Everything was good. I looked over the edge once more and was stabbed in the stomach by a lance of terror. I could die, I thought. This could be it. But I had been reading a book about taking risks. In context, the book was a Christian book entitled 2DIE4 that articulated the sense of abandonment believers hold toward their well-being for the sake of the gospel. The author likened this sense of abandonment to his own risk-taking hobbies: motorcycle riding and parachuting. I wanted to partake in this living, thrilling metaphor.

So I stepped back.

And I ran to the edge of the cliff.

And I jumped.

It was exhilarating. The water was wetter, the air better after completing that jump. It was fun, and not overly dangerous for a bunch of sober young adults. I climbed a steep, narrow passage of loose rock back to the launch site (that was probably more dangerous than the jump itself; I should have swum around to a less dangerous route).

A few of the others had jumped by the time I was back atop the cliff. One my friends called for my brother to join him by the road, so Tristan went bounding from boulder to boulder toward the van. As he leapt over one enormous stone, he suddenly dropped out of sight. I looked for his head to bob back up into my line of vision as he continued on his way, but that didn’t happen.

“Tristan!” I called.

A voice answered, “Uhh… I think I need to go to the emergency room.”

I didn’t know how badly he was hurt, so I ran/jumped toward his voice, bare feet beating boulders beneath, in a manner similar to the way he had traversed the rocks. I have to admit: I wanted to look cool, a younger brother making fervent strides to reach his older, injured brother. That pride probably had a great deal to do with my smashing my big toe on one of the rocks.

When I got to my brother, my toe was bleeding and the nail was kind of smashed, but his injury outstripped mine. He had an eight-inch gash stretching from below his ankle to the lower part of his calf. All of us piled back into the van and drove to the university, where we let some guys off to make dinner (and to give us some breathing room) before we drove to the ER.

Tristan’s wound was placed too awkwardly to receive stitches, and glue didn’t help to hold it together, so the doctor cleaned it and wrapped it up to heal. My brother has a big scar for it, but other than that he’s fine – praise God. I, too, am well; my toe didn’t require that degree of medical attention.

Soon after that experience we went back to attempt the procedure more cautiously. This time a different surprise greeted us: the gate to Coleman had been welded shut. But that’s alright; we avoided trespassing, and I was content with an awesome – though short-lived – cliff diving experience.

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