I stared at the water, a few feet beneath me. If water were a metaphor for life, as it often is, I am the person who dabbles my toes in the water to test the temperature, once, twice, third time’s the charm. Then walk up to the water and gingerly step down the stairs. I feel things out. I never jump in. I’ve never done a cannonball in my life.

The water was clear, blue, chlorinated and unforgiving. I was on the springboard, age six, taking beginner’s swimming lessons. Instructors were in the wat…