Whenever Tom Petty’s song, ‘Free Fallin,’ would come on the radio, my palms would sweat profusely. Although Petty is describing his post-breakup liberation, I always thought of skydiving and how I never wanted to free fall out of an airplane.
In fact, I’m not even a fan of roller coasters or simulation rides. As a result, my friends love watching me freak out on Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s ‘Avatar Flight of Passage.’ (I promise that this article isn’t sponsored…but that would be great! Disney definitely has my contact information.) Basically, you sit like you’re riding a motorcycle and the seat moves your thighs in and out to make it seem like the “banshee” is breathing. Then, on an IMAX-size screen, you are guided through the natural beauty of Pandora. “Flying” the banshee actually makes my hands sweat so much that my fingers prune as if I’ve spent an hour soaking in the tub.
However, I decided to conquer my fear and this summer, I jumped out of an airplane.
For my sister’s graduation present, she wanted our family to go skydiving. My fearless sister, Tatum, went up and made the jump first. When Tatum landed, she was already itching to do it again. All I could think was How are we even related?
All too soon, it was my brother, Trey, and I’s turn to make the one-way flight. While my instructor tightened the straps on my harness and made small talk, I started to shake. Why was I doing this? Why did anyone want to do this? “This is the second parachute which is our back-up, in case the first one malfunctions,” the instructor explained. The word ‘malfunction’ caught my attention and held it as I walked up to the tiny, puddle jumper. Although I am not superstitious, I still wanted to knock on any and every piece of wood available. Maybe even knock myself out so I wouldn’t remember any of this.
Once inside the miniature airplane, my younger brother and his instructor scooted to the back of the plane and I sat next to the door. When I freak out, I am excessively chatty and then become mute. After we boarded the plane, I only answered yes or no questions. “Does this strap feel too tight?” “Can you scoot a little further up?” “Do your goggles feel comfortable?” Otherwise, I stared out the small window; looking through the clouds a the world shrank beneath us.
We were skydiving in Amelia Island, Florida and the view from 14,000 feet was incredible. If you are going to jump, I do believe that the earth beneath you ought to be beautiful.
“Are you ready?” the instructor yells in my ear. Before I can respond, he is opening the door and the wind roars in response. “Can we just hang on the side for a little while?” I ask. I feel my instructor shrug behind me, “Whatever you want to do.”
So I resituate until my legs and arms are dangling outside of the plane. My limbs are as limp as a ragdolls and I stare at the ground. Swaying in the breeze, I can honestly say this is the first time that I’ve heard true silence. Suspended more than two miles above the ground, I felt weightless as if time and gravity meant nothing. I felt like part of the world and simultaneously, separate from it. Is this what transcendence means?
There are only a handful of moments when I’ve ever felt this. Maybe you’ve felt it too! You are leaving something comfortable behind and are preparing to make a headlong jump into the unknown. Yet, you linger for a moment in the in-between. Maybe you are building up your courage, studying the terrain ahead, or even pausing time for memory’s sake. Personally, I did all three.
Then I hear myself say, “I’m ready.” Wordlessly, my instructor leans forward and we flip out of the plane. Now we are truly free falling. In the video of my jump, I oscillate between looking like a demon escaping the abyss and a Who from Dr. Seuss. All I know is that I screamed so much that I forgot to breathe.
Before I could fully grasp what was happening, the parachute caught the wind and jerked us upright. Then, we glided to the ground and gracefully landed on our feet. I think Tom Cruise would’ve been proud.
Originally, I went skydiving to celebrate my sister, but in the end, I made the jump for me. Most of my life has been based on routine and meticulously planned/overseen by yours truly. However, the past few years have been a series of unplanned events that have pushed me further out of my comfort zone. Whether I was jumping out of a plane or moving cross country, I can’t even believe that I could let go enough to do either.
So if you are jumping from a plane, changing your cereal brand or transitioning into a new season of life, let yourself free fall just a little. Yes, you can pack a parachute (or two), but ultimately, surrender to the wind and see where it takes you.