Back in 2012, I went skydiving for the first time. I’d wanted to do it for quite a while, in spite of my fear of heights, but I was never really that motivated to do it. Contemplating the experience of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane was more of an academic exercise, something to be examined from a distance. I’d ask myself questions like, “Why is it that my palms sweat at the top of a tall ladder, but I always pick the window seat when we fly?” So when my good friend said he wanted to do it for his birthday, I was in.
I had a hard time getting to sleep the night before; it felt a little bit like the night before Christmas, only I was looking forward to imminent potential death instead of presents. So I decided to fire up the old laptop, go to Google, and type this into the search bar:
why do people die while skydiving
You know, because I’m smart that way. It turns out that most of those deaths happen not to first timers or the inexperienced, but to experts who try to do things beyond their ability. Which was comforting, because I was going to be attached to an experienced flyer. Surely he would have this information, and a good understanding of his limitations, and wouldn’t do anything to put either of us in jeopardy. Surely.
There was one particular moment where everything became real to me. It wasn’t when we took a group shot in front of the rusting, twenty years past retirement plane we’d be jumping out of. It wasn’t after the five minutes of instruction we received that supposedly contained all the information we needed not to plummet to our deaths. It wasn’t even on the short flight up to ten thousand feet, sitting on a stranger’s knees and strapped to him like a helpless baby, staring out the window as the world slowly dropped away below us. No, that moment came when the door of the airplane opened, and a blast of freezing cold air roared its way into the cabin, furious and chilling on that otherwise warm summer day. The whole way up I had been calm and relaxed, almost zen-like, without a concern. That sharp blast of air destroyed my sense of ease in an instant, shocking me awake to the reality that I was about to willingly free fall into the empty space between me and the ground. In that moment, I realized that I may have made a horrible mistake, that I truly could be experiencing the final moments of my life, and that it was too late to do anything about it.
Last Friday was my last day of work at the University. I packed up my things, said my goodbyes, and rode the bus home. I had been looking forward to this for months, ever since we made the decision to leave, so I had expected to feel some sort of joy or relief, something to differentiate it from a normal Friday afternoon. But aside from having my sad little box of office stuff, it didn’t feel any different. It was a little disappointing to be honest, all this build up for nothing. Even Saturday just felt like, well, Saturday. It was kind of like being back on that plane, watching the world float by while I sat there calmly, feeling nothing.
Sunday was different.
I woke up Sunday feeling this sort of low dread. The plan was to start looking for freelance projects on Monday. I was staring at that door, knowing it had to open at some point to let in that burst of cold air, signaling that it was time to jump. I found myself doing little chores around the house with with a twitchy, nervous energy, wondering (not for the first time) if we had made the right choice. After all, Jen and I are jumping out of this plane together, and it’s my responsibility to make sure we land safely. To put it mildly, I was freaking out a bit.
On that summer day in 2012, I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane, and landed safely on the ground. It was a little frightening at first, but after the first few seconds it was exciting and fun, and I would definitely do it again. Even though I’ve left work, I still don’t feel like we’ve jumped yet; I imagine that will come when we leave this apartment with nothing but our backpacks. I feel better today, but I’m still staring at that door, wondering when it’s going to open. The anticipation is worse than the fall.
As long as your chute opens.