My feet leave the safety of the platform.
I’m strapped to my tandem skydiving partner and hope—and fervently pray—that he knows what he is doing. I am flipping, literally head over heels, and I see that safe platform above me and the gaping mouth of the shelter of the plane where my feet were firmly planted until I jumped.
I can’t breathe, and it’s not because we are floating through the air at 13,500 feet above the Earth. Nor is it because I realize that if I were only a few feet higher—okay, 1,500 more feet to be exact—I’d need an oxygen mask. I can’t breathe because I am 100% terrified at what I’ve done.
I’ve jumped from a perfectly safe airplane, an airplane that, from the ground’s perspective, is only a dot in the sky, almost three miles up.
The crazy thing is that I chose to jump, and never in a million years would I have thought this was something I’d choose.
How did I get here?
How do any of us get to this place where a lightbulb illuminates our cognitive brains just enough to highlight the fact that there’s something crazy in there?
What sort of madness drove me—or drives any of us for that matter—to choose something so far outside of my scope of acceptable things to do?
I retrace the steps of this terminal velocity debacle.
My non-scientific version of what these words mean is this: terminal—death, dying, fatality; velocity—the speed at which death, dying and fatality can occur based on one simple, out-of-my-mind choice.
It all started the day prior when I overheard someone say, “I’m jumping out of an airplane tomorrow.” The sentence exits her mouth and then subsequently flies across the room and lands full of fury in my brain.
Mind you, I have never thought about jumping.
I have never wanted to jump.
I have never felt the need to jump.
I have never desired to jump from anything, much less a flying airplane.
Does this sound familiar?
I’ll never… (fill in the blank).
It seems there needs to be more credence granted by the masses to that widely recognized truth: never say never. I obviously didn’t buy into it.
“I’m jumping out of an airplane tomorrow,” she reiterates, almost matter-of-factly.
At this point, my somewhat logical brain is talking to my very much illogical heart:
Absolutely not. You are deathly afraid of heights, for one. You could die, for two. You’ve adamantly refused any such notion in the past, for three. There are sundry other scenarios that can assist you in feeling alive, for four, and jumping out of a perfectly safe airplane does not need to be your ticket.
Ever have one of those talks in your head?
However, there and then my heart won out, despite the river of complete and utter fear that is running through my head.
I show up the next day completely in disbelief at what I am about to do. I had recruited one other person to join me. I’m not sure why.
Maybe I considered the fact that if I did in fact die, there would be people I knew who witnessed it and could live to tell the story. Possibly I wouldn’t die alone…we’d all die together. Perhaps it was the competitor in me who said, “If she can do this, certainly you can do this.” And so there we were. Arriving three deep to jump—the spin instructor, my friend and I.
We signed our lives away on a stack of forms, and then we were assigned our tandem instructors, suited up, practiced our sky diving arches and waited with sweaty palms as the plane arrived.
Scared is too light of a word to describe my walk to the plane. Although I do not know what a walk of death really feels like, I believe the fear mixed with the adrenaline along with my elevated heart rate allow me to have a vivid sense of what a walk of death could feel like. Nothing about this venture puts me at ease. There are plenty of reasons why I shouldn’t jump. It was on a whim that I made the decision without so much as a lick of research so as not to destroy the little ounce of courage I had inside. Whim decisions rarely put anyone at ease.
I value the people who accompanied me, so why would I want to be falling from the sky with them at a terminal velocity that could create quite a splat factor if anything goes awry? Somehow I walk, of my own free will, to the plane despite the guttural panic and sheer terror I feel. The plane itself is reason enough to run away and forget this craziness; it creaks and groans, rattles and shakes as it carries a sardined group of about 20 people to their jumping point in the sky. Everything in me screams with profound panic at what I am about to do.
The three of us, basically sitting in the laps of our tandem instructors, try to make small talk while the plane climbs like a bird with a broken wing to 13,500 feet above the soft, safe, grassy turf of Earth. Looking out the window, I could see the curve of the earth. Holy crap! I feel like I am close to outer space. I mean, seriously, the earth’s curve is staring at me eye-to-eye. We still have time to decline, back out, quit, call it a good enough day without ever leaving the airplane.
The solo fliers jump first, full of maddening excitement and without any evidence of fear. They do somersaults at the open door, shrieking with utter joy as they plummet to the earth. And then come the tandems, crab crawling towards the door one after the other. We were the first on the plane, the last to jump. I’m not sure if being last and watching everyone else empty the plane before me is a good or a bad thing in reference to my pounding heart and my sudden inability to breathe. I watch my friend shuffle with her tandem partner to the door. She looks horrified. And suddenly she’s gone. Poof! She disappears over the edge of the open doorway into the vast blue sky—falling, falling, falling.
What have we done?!
And before I know it, Bill, my tandem instructor, is yelling in my ear over the thunderous roar of the airplane’s propeller that we are next. Crawling and shuffling awkwardly we make it to the gaping mouth of the plane. Oh no. No, No, No. My eyes are wide. I can’t breathe. We are wayyyy too far off the ground. No, No, No. I’m hanging onto the bar above my head, white knuckling it, I’m sure.
Let go! he says.
Let go! Let go!
I. Let. Go.
The plane is suddenly above me as we flip upside down. Bill probably intended for me to wave goodbye to that perfectly safe airplane. I am surprised to see it getting smaller as we flip a couple times before the true free fall begins. We are belly down now, the curve of the earth beautifully visible straight ahead and the rush of air in my face. It is silent except for the air.
I am reminded of a quote by Rumi:
“This silence, this moment, every moment, if it’s genuinely inside you, brings what you need. Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.”
I’m not falling at all, am I? It doesn’t feel like I am. Oh the exhilaration! It’s beautiful up here! And wait…I’m not afraid anymore. I’m ecstatic. I actually let go. I jumped. I did it! I did it for me. I wasn’t coerced or convinced. I feel more alive than I’ve ever felt!
I can’t get enough of what I am seeing and feeling. I am free. I have no inhibitions in this moment of free fall. And what a grouping of words to describe what is happening: free fall. Free from a definitive fear that has ruled the day in my life. Free from confinement. Free from sadness. Free from the half-life of safety and comfort that I am currently living. Falling away from security and what I believe to be safety. Falling upside down, tossed about and doing so of my own volition. Falling dangerously, but without a care in the world. Falling alongside only a few in life who are willing to take the plunge as well. Falling with the biggest smile on my face!
There’s a saying: do something every day that scares you! Why? What is the purpose of such an action? I believe when we live in fear—fear of change, fear of being lonely, fear of vulnerability with others, fear of loving or being loved, fear of being hurt, fear of tangible things and intangible things—we create a cage around our hearts. Life begins to get smaller and smaller as we back ourselves into our own little corners of apparent safety.
For me, fears in life made their impression at a very young age. Most of those fears are intangible, emotional kinds of fears. Some, like acrophobia, are more tangible. I began to create negative patterns of behavior with regard to fear at that very young age I realize now that I have lived, to date, under my own allegiance to fear thereby enabling it to grow more and more powerful. Fear’s growth created the inner angst that I began to carry on my back everywhere I went, until I found myself immobilized. It happens to the best of us, most times without any of us ever realizing it.
Fear is insidious. It waits for a chance to bind us up. It is a chameleon, disguising itself as our only friend only to isolate and cripple us in the end. The longer we allow it to sit in our camps, the easier it is for us to become accustomed to its presence while it gains more and more control over our lives. Fear’s end game is to trick us into believing that if we give into its wily ways, we will safe, secure.
“Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Don’t worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?” ~ Rumi
Why did I jump from a perfectly safe airplane?
Because my life depended on it!
I needed to stand up tall, put on my big girl panties and face myself. Jumping became the impetus for change. It was the turning point that planted the seeds of new-found courage that prompted me to reach inside of myself, wrestle down the woman of fear and sadness who had kept me in a cage all these years, open up my heart and mind and freely fall into the curves, twists and turns of life, despite the occasional thumping of my heartbeat and the inability to breathe. I needed to discontinue holding on to comfort, looking over my shoulder at the past where I thought I was comfortable and safe. I needed the wind to blow fiercely in my life. Blow new life into my lungs, new courage to face change or loss or sadness or heartbreak without crumbling into an immobilized heap of fear on the floor.
Jumping from great heights requires an out-of-our-minds kind of courage. The reward is that we gain a brand new perspective. Perhaps many of us need to jump so that we can see the beautifully scary curves of this life and allow them to look at us square in the face, like a challenge. Letting go, jumping, flipping over, watching our safety nets get smaller and smaller could be the launching pad that prepares us to face other obstacles in life where we’d have to make other out-of-our-minds choices to do things that scare us to our core, thereby facing our demons instead of hiding from them.
Why did I jump from a perfectly safe airplane?
Because I needed to jump, to let go.
My life, my heart, my soul depended on it, and if given the chance, I’d jump again!
Author: Michele Sodon
Apprentice Editor: Lois Person / Editor: Caitlin Oriel
Image: Author’s Own