Two years ago, with the dawn frost still clinging to the dormant grass outside, God told me to start writing.
I responded flatly, “Sorry God, that’s just not possible.”
I then proceeded to justify, to God of all people, all the reasons why I couldn’t become a writer.
I reminded him of my wife and four young boys, all of whom depended on me to provide for their well-being. As a marketing director, I consistently made a comfortable and consistent salary.
As a writer, I’d be lucky to afford a single Happy Meal on a bi-monthly basis. That’s what I’d been taught since I was old enough to hold a #2 pencil and not even divine intervention could convince me otherwise.
I vaguely remember once being eighteen.
Lost in my thoughts, I stood in our community college parking lot entirely isolated while surrounded by a bustling herd of Geology 101 students.
Everything about me screamed “I’m living away from home for the first time ever,” from the free buzz cut offered to me by a roommate to the scuffed up pair of Nike Airs. Over my shoulder hung my overnight pack, an old Converse gym bag of my Dad’s stuffed haphazardly with unfolded clothes, a few school books, and not nearly enough toiletries.
Praying silently that no one would approach me, I impatiently waited for the16-passenger school van to pull up so I could escape into the backseat and be shuttled to the middle of nowhere: Vernal, Utah.
For those unfamiliar with Utah geography, Vernal is a mining town on the Eastern Utah frontier, with a population less than 10,000.
It’s a typical American small town where you can always find who you’re looking for, even if all you remember is their first name and their hair color.
The town’s biggest claim to fame is that it’s the resting place for the who’s who of the Jurassic Era. It’s famous among paleontologists, geologists, (all kinds of -ologists in fact) because hundreds of millions of years ago a bunch of dinosaurs lived and, fortunately, died there.
If they hadn’t croaked, the town wouldn’t be famous and I wouldn’t have been pretending to sleep on this oversized minivan, watching dusk lit tumbleweed whizz past at 68 miles per hour.
Luckily, we pulled into Vernal minutes before the town’s generally recognized closing time, which gave us all time to stampede from the KOA to the supermarket next door.
Shuffling through the checkout line with a King Size Reese’s Cup in hand, the ideal college freshman dinner, I made a poor attempt at small-town small talk, asking about a girl I know from Vernal named Jen with frizzy black hair.
Sure enough, the cashier and two of the three people in my line simultaneously pointed out where she lived.
After a forgettable night with the King Size Reese’s, Jen, and her frizzy black hair, I rolled out of my KOA cabin bunk bed already dressed for the day.
Saying so long to Vernal, our class van rumbled along sixteen miles of gravel road to Red Fleet Reservoir.
Red Fleet Reservoir, like Vernal, is famous for what died there. Along its red and white-striped sandstone shores lie numerous fossilized footprints from dinosaurs living 200 million years ago.
Following a compelling hour-long lecture from our professor on these ancient relics, our class was set free to take pictures of the fossils, explore the surroundings and graze on sack lunches before heading back to the school.
I instinctively distance myself from the pack, focusing on the last signs of giants that got stuck 200 thousand millennia ago.
Lost in thought, I began wondering whether one day I’d also be nothing more than a dirty footprint in the middle of what some awkward college freshman considers north of nowhere.
In the midst of this post-adolescent tailspin, an unmistakable voice in my head boomed.
To the right of where I was standing on the shore, a steep rise in the sandstone shelf rose and plateaued 30 feet above the reservoir.
The resulting cliff was a sharp drop to the water, making it simultaneously inviting and imposing to any crazy fool passing by.
But, as I’m reminded by the chill breeze, this was October in Eastern Utah, not a Yucatan cenote. The water temperature, at best, would be 38 degrees. I could die from exposure in water that cold. Unlike our late Jurassic dinosaur friends, I preferred to walk away from the reservoir today alive and well, thank you.
With the thought increasing in intensity like the Jaws theme song, I fought back tooth and nail with even more reasons why this was undoubtedly the stupidest idea ever.
I was no Fabio back then and was perfectly comfortable in my Costco flannel shirt and stonewashed jeans. They covered up my very soft, very pale underbelly nicely. Furthermore, my swimsuit was probably buried in a pile of two-week-old dirty clothes back home, a world away from where I was now standing.
Are you kidding me? Buck naked and standing at the top of the 30-foot cliff, my stonewashed jeans, flannel button-down, and boxer briefs were all shed on the shore below.
The cool autumn breeze rushed around my pale, pudgy, shrinking nether region; an unforgiving reminder that, standing 30 feet above near-freezing water, I was officially a complete idiot.
Looking down all I could see was a cold deep blue distance that increased every second I failed to jump.
In a last-ditch attempt to surrender to reason, I considered my options for an honorable retreat.
With gravity no longer my friend, I hurdle feetfirst toward a deep blue watery grave. I’m surprised to have enough time to partially string together six words:
As my exposed pale frame collided with the deep blue unknown, all life was sucked from my lungs and every pore of my skin was simultaneously lit on fire and put on ice.
Unable to think, my limbs flew into auto propulsion in act of pure self-preservation.
No thinking was required; no thinking was even possible.
Within seconds, I rose from my watery grave, the drowning self-doubt dripping away and disappearing on the sandstone shore underfoot.
With adrenaline still thick in my veins, I could feel my thawing lungs fighting for breath for the first time since birth.
At that moment, awkward but resolute, I promised to never again stand glued to a sandstone shore, paralyzed by the comfortable path of mediocrity.
20 years have gone by, but here again, I stood, staring down at the fossilized remains of what I’d convinced myself was best for me to become; best for me and my family.
“I can’t move, God.”
“I can’t change… not now.”
I was glued to my spot in life, a textbook average, middle-aged dinosaur lacking the courage to climb a small rise and, with pure fear, stare into the deep-blue unknown.
“I’m sorry God,” I apologized one last time. “There’s simply no way I can become a writer.”
Thanks for reading. My name is David Smurthwaite. I’m a top writer on Medium in Travel, Parenting, Health, & Short Stories. I’m a father of four rapidly-growing boys, and husband to a near-perfect companion, all of whom I’ve enlisted in writing Why We Roam: a book dedicated to helping families have life-changing experiences around the world.
You can follow our family of seven (including our 16-year-old puppy) on Instagram as we live in four countries (Spain, Rwanda, Vietnam, and Colombia) on four continents over the next 12 months.