There were a lot of reasons for me not to go ice skating on Thursday. I had a lot of homework, I don’t know how to skate, I was almost guaranteed to make a fool of myself, I had a LOT of homework. But I could use the break, and a couple of my friends convinced me somehow that it would be a good idea. Also I had a bet with with a friend about who would fall down the most, and I would hate to forfeit on a challenge like that. So really, you see, it was a point of honor, and that more than anything else pushed me to walk down to the rink that night.
As we stood there in line to borrow skates, I had that feeling of oozing panic in my stomach, the one that hits as you think of every way you could possibly fail. And the smile on my face became very forced as I held as still as possible to prevent myself from bolting out the door. This is crazy, I thought. I can’t do this. I am going to break my ankle, and I’m going to look like a total fool.
I stumbled down the steps and clumsily stepped onto the rink, and I couldn’t breathe until I pushed all the nervousness out in a laugh. Exciting physics concepts aside, this really is crazy. Why am I doing this?
In the beginning I took my tiny creeping steps, flinching as people moved past me. I windmilled and grabbed onto the wall every 3 or 4 minute steps, and generally didn’t get very far at all. And I laughed because it was fun and funny, but also because I was so embarrassed, because I knew I looked so stupid.
I wasn’t afraid of falling–a nice side effect of all those years playing volleyball. You spend enough time purposefully throwing yourself at the ground and falling really isn’t an issue at all. I was, however, afraid of people. The ground, you see, is always there. No surprises. But people are unpredictable. People ahead of me who might stop. People skating past me. People almost falling on me.
I was even bothered by the friends skating with me, because I wanted to do so well, and the thought that not only was I looking ridiculous but that they were being subjected to my uncoordinated, foolish moments made me feel even stupider.
But I did get better, and slowly the thought in my head changed from This is crazy to This is crazy, but I am doing it. The music helped a lot–the bouncy pop songs gave me a rhythm to follow and pushed me to go faster. And it gave me something to feel and fill my mind with to crowd out the thoughts.
After one fall, I got up fast and something inside me decided that since I was going to look stupid and fall down anyway, I might as well just go for it. So the next step that I felt vaguely balanced, I pushed a little harder against the ice, aimed myself at an empty area in the rink, and went. It was wonderful–I was moving, really moving on the ice; I felt so successful, and I laughed purely from happiness for the first time that evening.
Then I tried to think about my next step and how to do it again and tripped and stuck and had to grab the wall to keep from collapsing completely. And so I started a pattern: when I focused on the music and let go of the scared little voice still babbling away and just moved, I did okay. But as soon as I attempted to think, whether about the skating or just trying to decipher what someone was saying to me, I would lose the rhythm and be back to stumbling baby steps.
So, without any real guidance as to what I should or shouldn’t do to improve my skating, I locked onto one concept: Don’t think. As long as I could keep myself from thinking, I did actually skate. It wasn’t easy for me to trust my body enough to shut my brain off and allow the movement to take over. But as I succeeded for longer stretches of steps, the words behind the smile on my lips were always “don’t think; just do.”