All families have their own shorthand of shared memories, private terminologies and in-jokes. In my family one of those tiny sayings that signifies something much bigger is “you’re standing by the water’s edge…”.
It refers to a Family Circus cartoon that must have run some time in the early 90s – my attempts to find it online have thus far proved futile. In the cartoon, the mother says the words “you’re standing by the water’s edge…” and each of the kids visualises the scene based on what they’ve seen of the world. The littlest kid imagines a puddle, the next one a pond, then a river, and finally the eldest kid imagines an ocean.
The cartoon was duly clipped from the newspaper, yellowed and curled under a fridge magnet, and was even trotted out in photocopied form for boarding school care packages from Mum. But most of all the words became a mantra of reassurance from Mum whenever we were on the brink of some kind of change in life, and feeling a bit scared about what the future held. A reminder that whatever insecurities you feel, there’s a whole world of opportunity there for you to conquer. From a school swimming carnival, to boarding school homesickness, to starting uni and then moving to Sydney… each time the scope was grander, the water’s edge stretched further. Now I don’t even need Mum to say the words; they just pop into my head.
Standing at the water’s edge can be nerve-wracking, but with these times of change there also comes a dropping-away of commitments and a sense of freedom that I can only imagine becomes increasingly rarer into adulthood. In fact I’d say the past few months, waiting to get to this point, have been more difficult than the actual leap into the unknown. To switch metaphors, until the water’s edge was in sight, it has sometimes felt like pedalling painfully uphill.
Having finally finished the climb, the downhill leg is exhilarating. Suddenly things are moving of their own accord, as time marches on toward a no-longer distant date of departure. Goodbyes are suddenly for real, packing is becoming a priority… There’s no need to pedal now – I’m coasting. All that’s left is to kick up my heels, feel the wind in my hair and enjoy the ride.