Saying Yes to adventure and fun with friends found me jumping out of an airplane. An activity I had never thought about, let alone desired enough to put on my bucket list.
My best friend from high school has a June birthday. Mine is in November. A Wednesday in the May before our big birthday (the half centennial one) she tells me she has this Groupon for skydiving. Somewhere between multitasking and not closely paying attention but completely trusting her, I thought I had said yes to one of those indoor vertical wind tunnels. When I received the confirming email for TANDOM SKYDIVING...! Well. Let's just say I felt a huge rush of fear and excitement flow through me for days. Like jittery nerves and talking to much fear. Disbelief that I would do such a scary thing. And the event was over 2 months away. I knew there was no backing out, I had promised to go on a big adventure with my best friends.
Fear of jumping off
I don’t know where my fear of jumping off ledges started. My biological father has a fear of heights, but I knew from when I went parasailing during a trip after college, that his fear isn’t my fear. On my honeymoon in Australia was the first time I had to confront this fear. We were white water rafting, and during the lunch break people were swinging from a rope into the river. When it was my turn, I stood on that rock, holding the rope too tightly, and fear kept me from moving…anywhere but back to the safety of the path.
About eight years ago, my sons and I were up in Cape Cod. There’s a nearby bridge over a creek that at high tide people jump or dive off of it into the cold depths of the water streaming into the ocean. My boys loved it. I went along to watch. And they dared me. I can still feel the bumpy cement wall that I gripped as I tried to convince myself it was ok to jump in the water. How I finally did it, I don't know (my sons swear they had to push me), but down I went. With the wind rushing by I loved the feeling of flowing in the air. The splash was not much different than a regular cannon ball splash (I’m not a diver). I felt such a rush, I went to try again. And again, even though the second time I knew I’d be ok, I stood there digging my hands into the stone-hard wall. It was great, but I couldn’t put myself through it more than twice. I was elated that I had been able to conquer that jump.
The next year (I remember the date—10/10/10) I treated my sons to trapeze lessons in Manhattan (TSNY). I didn’t think it was going to be an issue. Bravely, I climbed up the high ladder, and looked over the view of the Hudson River. I grabbed onto the trapeze fly bar and listened to the coach’s instructions. But my body froze. He counted to three probably more than a dozen times. I tried my yoga breathing. I tried squeezing my eyes shut. Finally a second coach came up to help. Honestly, by that time my brain had shut down and I don’t recall what they did to relax me enough to jump off that ledge. But I did. And swinging, and flipping to hang by my knees felt so…amazing. So free. And it wasn’t hard to let go and fall into the safety netting (which really did feel safe, despite all it’s spaces and bounciness). I crawled to the edge, my arms shaking and the guide at the edge said something that felt deeply profound “Let Go. Let God.” Sometimes you have to physically do something different to really understand the meaning.
This is how we celebrate 50
Fast forward to the day my daring girlfriends and I are to jump out of the plane. We are so excited, and I don’t think any of us thought about what the risks might really be (well, at least I didn’t! otherwise I may have limited my potential to have an adventure). We watched the safety video. Got dressed in their mandatory onsie/jumpsuit and leather helmet (maybe looking and feeling completely goofy helps stem the fear?).
As we ascended in the little plane, I looked out the small round window as the ground shrank away from us. All of a sudden, I realized the only way to get back to the ground was out that small, open door. Fortunately, the tandem instructor is required to “test” the connections between us, so I felt like I was being braced…which gave me strength to trust his expertise. As it got closer to our time to get to the door, I felt unsteady and started reaching for the railing above. I quickly let go – remembering how my fear froze me on the edge of the trapeze ledge. I crossed my arms in front of me, basically hugging myself, as we creeped towards the exit. At some point, I shut my eyes tight. I couldn’t hear the instructions being told to me (I vaguely remember “one spaghetti, two spaghetti”) as I kept repeating to myself to open my eyes. I was deeply afraid that if I did, I would once again freeze and never be able to jump off the plane’s door ledge. In the flash where I finally opened my eyes, I heard “three spaghetti!” and out the force of my instructor pushed us out and into the wind. Whoosh! Yes, as corny as that reads, that first rush of wind as you free fall down feels like one giant whoosh.
I was so thrilled I did something you’re not supposed to – put your arms out like you’re a bird or superman. I quickly learned (or felt the result, not just the instructor yelling) that doing that changes your flight path…and at that particular part of the jump, especially for beginners, that’s not highly recommended. The best part of the jump was when we pulled the rip cord, and went from free fall to zipping so fast upwards that I felt like I was on a roller coaster. The parachute opened, and from there on to the landing felt like floating (the cloud we floated through was kind of neat too).
My friends and I all landed about the same time, and we joined each other at the edge of the field. We felt on top of the world! Like Charlie’s Angels finishing some exciting mission! And, though we may not have thought about it at that moment, experienced a very big “adrenaline rush” that is so intoxicating.
When people learn I jumped out of an airplane, they think how adventurous or daring I am. But I don’t. I think of the life lessons. How I am able to trust a friend that much. To trust myself that much. How I learned to “Let Go. Let God.” ("God as we understand him") Or even beyond that – to not hold on in the first place. And most importantly, that taking chances and having the right attitude – leads to just plain fun. (Or…just plane fun? Ha!). I can’t guarantee that I can leap off ledges now. But at least I know I can deal with it and usually the end result is better (and more fun) than my fear.