24 January 2015
Turning the page…
I am afraid right now, the kind of ‘we’re at the door of the airplane about to jump out’ fear. Before I went skydiving and took that leap of faith, I had no idea of who I would be. What would go through me and what would I go through as I soared through the air?
There were some things I ‘knew’, or assumptions I made—
- I wasn’t going to die
- Somebody else was driving: I wasn’t in control
- This was a great rite of passage and I wouldn’t be the same person once I was on the other side.
The morning was so laborious, my adrenaline and full emotional gamut run so many times, I was bored and edgy by the time we made it to 11,500 feet, in one tight upward corkscrew. Crammed onto the floor, with somebody’s parachute jammed between your legs, tethered to the jumpmaster behind you, crammed against him. Hot, loud, reeking of aircraft fuel, uncomfortable, monotonous, irritated.
Then everybody travels along the assembly line, up and out the door, the static-line parachutists, the soloists, then the tandem bundled beetles: GOGOGO!
We were second to last, so my wait was enervating—this laborious procession on top of a several-hours wait was scream-inducing. After our beetle perp-walk to the door, my jumpmaster yells in my ear: “READY?” We’re standing on the brushed aluminum threshold, polished by decades of jumpers’ boots, with the brown dirt of Perris Valley two miles down. My mind says: “CAN WE FUCKING GO ALREADY?” One sharp nod YES and off we go, into the wild blue yonder.
Looking back twenty five years on, all three of my assumptions were flawed.
- I knew that I wasn’t gonna die that day. Not in the cards. My lifeline is loooong and there is oh so much to do. My absence of mortality on that day was the prime assumption that enabled the whole exercise. If death were a possibility, I wouldn’t have been in that plane.
But people do die in this pursuit. Years later, the exact plane I rode up in that tight, monotonous spiral did crash, killing everybody aboard. Isn’t that ironic? It’s highly likely that some of my fellow passengers that day died in that crash.
~April 22, 1992~
- Flawed, but correct. I wasn’t in control. I was along for the ride and a highly skilled operator was doing the driving, making all the important decisions.
I’m never in control. Never. I usually think I’m the highly skilled operator and that my important, well-informed decisions have an impact in delivering a predictable outcome.
Perhaps. But shit happens. In reading about that crash on April 22, 1992, the National Transportation Safety Board attributed it to engine failure due to fuel contamination caused by improper handling. And the pilot’s response to the engine failure contributed to the crash.
CRASH AND BURN.
16 PEOPLE DEAD.
That plane never made it more than 50 feet off the ground.
- Correct, but faulty assumptions:
I was not the same person on the other side of that experience, but not for the reasons I expected.
When you choose the experience Jumping Out of a Plane, you pass through a portal, long before you step over that silver threshold. I find the subject ‘Skydiving’ to be polarizing: either people are totally engaged, inspired by the possibility, or they’ve already taken the leap and are on fire, reliving the experience with you. Or they’re: “no way, no how, why on earth would you ever jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” Nothing in between.
I was in the first camp, and all I heard within my context were stories of those hooked on jumping. There is an exhilaration and aliveness hurling towards the ground at terminal velocity that cannot be felt elsewhere. Those I met in the skydiving community at Perris that day organized their entire lives around that free fall. Jobs were things to have to earn you enough and grant the flexibility to make the leap.
Afterwards, when people with their eyes sparkling asked me what it was like, I said: “It’s fun. No big deal—like standing on your roof rack going 120 miles an hour. And you notice your altimeter unwinds quickly and it gets warm fast.”
That was my biggest takeaway—a lifetime of expectations building up an enormous event. Which turns out to be just another unique experience, like eating a new food for the first time, or the first day of class. Still the same, forever changed.
Between this tick of the clock, the marker of my 53rd birthday and the next, the probability of my life, my living, being completely altered is high. I am stepping once again over that silver threshold into the wild blue yonder. I can’t wait to see what shows up under my pen one year on. My CV will grow, I’ll have new experiences that render me unrecognizable to who I knew myself to be. Today, it gives me butterflies in my stomach the likes I never had jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. How will I ever be big enough to be the guy who will stand where I stand and deliver?
Yet there I’ll be, one year on, with a smile of my face and a heart filled with love and gratitude, saying: “No big deal.” Still the same, forever changed.