I was in the process of divorce. Horrible process. Painful and ugly. After 25 years, my identity was stripped away and I was having a terrible time adjusting. I was in limbo and trying new things; trying things that were not good for me. Being “brave” and “bold” and “stupid” things. I couldn’t get my bearings. I was angry and hurt and frightened, trying to hide the intensity of the emotions and doing a very poor job of it. I prayed for guidance, for doors to open, for a direction. I prayed to feel human again. Numbness weighted me down. It was not a pretty time in my life. Answers and direction were slow in coming. I felt as if I was trudging through molasses just to get through my days. However, every once in a while a glimmer of hope presented itself. One such moment came in the form of a man named Esteban. He, too, had recently experienced a life altering tragedy and was, in his way, beginning the process of rebuilding his life. Esteban came around for just a short time, but in the brief moments our paths converged, I was able to glimpse a new trajectory for my life. How? He took me skydiving. Yup! Skydiving brought an end to my downward spiral, and helped me re-engage with life, albeit a different life. Skydiving, mind you, had never crossed my mind as one of those things on my “bucket list,” things I wanted to carry out before I “kicked the bucket.“ It never occurred to me that one could so easily find a “skydiving” school (check the yellow pages; it’s there) or that signing up for an eight-hour training session (static line ~ no tandem jump for me!) then jump from thousands of feet in the air was a possibility. Not on my radar screen. Esteban was the one who put the notion in my head. He even paid for the training and the first jump. What a swell guy!
I registered to take my training and jump on a clear day near the end of February. It was cold, but not too cold for jumping. We drove out to the school about an hour away from my apartment. Even to the most casual observer, I was a nervous wreck. What had I gotten myself into? This? Just to impress a man? Was I crazy? I don’t even recall if anyone else enrolled in the training with me. I spent the entire day learning what to do in the air; how I was going to jump; what to do if things went wrong–and there were plenty of scenarios to rehearse of “stuff” going wrong; how to land and roll to avoid injury; etc. Eight hours of training. We spent time looking at aerial maps so that I would know what to look for when airborne and therefore would know where to guide myself to land in the proper place. By the way, aerial maps are no good. They make absolutely no sense whatsoever! But I studied the maps anyway, hoped that when I was in the air the terrain looked like the map (it did not), and acted “cool“ like I knew what I was doing. I fervently and quietly prayed that I would not lose sight of the big X marked on the field where I was to land, because if I did, I’d be a goner. By the end of the day it was too late to jump so I scheduled another day to actually make the jump.
A few days later we drove out to the school again. This time there was a hubbub of activity. There were a lot of skydivers there, each in their colorful jumpsuits, each checking their respective chutes and making sure for the umpteenth time that everything was in order. I was directed to the area for “newbies” where I was given an ugly khaki jumpsuit to wear. We reviewed highlights of what I had learned earlier: how to get out of a line twist; what to pull if the canopy were to become tangled or didn’t open; what NOT to pull if I wanted to keep my canopy attached to my body; how to land and roll to avoid injury. The instructor checked my canopy and all the zippers and lines and stuff. Then we loaded into the plane and took off. I was jumping first since I was “exiting the plane” at the lowest altitude: 3500 feet. Others on the plane with me were going up to as high as 8k feet. As we rose into the air climbing higher and higher, the mood in the plane was quite jovial. My heart, however, was pounding so hard I could barely hear anyone else speaking. I could hardly breathe. When I did speak, the words stuck in my throat. The others laughed and slapped me on the back. First jump. Finally it was time for me to get into position. Actually, there was no jumping this first time. Just reach out of the plane, grab hold of the strut (diagonal bar from the plane’s body to its wing) and hang there until my instructor motioned for me to let go. All I had to do was to let go. Just letting go; letting go of all that tethered me to that plane. I absolutely could not believe I was doing this! But in a robotic way I went though the motions and suddenly found myself hanging from the strut of the plane 3500 feet in the air. What the hell had I gotten myself into! Don’t look down. Look straight into my instructor’s face. I no sooner looked at him when he gave the signal to let go. And, unbelievably, I let go. The strangest sensation in the world hit me as I watched the plane continue on it’s path and I was not with it. Just me spread eagle in the sky holding on to nothing and watching the plane move further away and out of reach. Suddenly I felt a jerk and looked up. Wouldn’t you know it! The lines had twisted and here I am on my first jump! Get out of the twist or no canopy will open! Unbelievable though it sounds, the thought did not panic me. I forced myself to stay calm. I reminded myself that I knew what to do. I grabbed hold of the lines and began to work myself around as instructed. And just like I had been told, the lines straightened up and the canopy sprang open. I checked the lines to make sure that I could maneuver to the right, then to the left. When satisfied that everything was in working order, I dared to look down. Yes! “X” marked my landing spot and I could see it even from this height. And what a sight it was! I relaxed a bit and looked out over the country side, breathing deeply and taking in the view. NOW I felt the exhilaration. I whooped and hollered, swerved in circles to the right, then to the left as I played with the lines that controlled direction. I floated. I was in awe. I did not want this experience to end. Before taking off, my jump instructor had placed a remote radio in my helmet so that he could communicate with me in the air. He guided me a little, but I didn’t want to listen to his voice. I just wanted to soak in the experience and the sight and make it last as long as possible. I had no sense of the speed with which I was falling. There was nothing that far up to measure with so there was no falling sensation. That is, until I reached treetop level; then I was very much aware of how fast I was descending. Suddenly I became intensely alert and focused on how to land–hit the ground–without injuring myself. The minute my feet touched the ground I felt the heaviness of gravity and was abruptly pulled back into reality. As instructed, I landed with bent knees and immediately went into a roll. Actually, it was rather easy. When I stood I looked up at the plane far away, saw other skydivers in the air making their colorful descents, and was speechless. I had done it. Furthermore, I wanted to do it again! I rolled up my paraphernalia and headed for the small hangar. Along the way I got congrats and slaps on the back. I felt like a million bucks.
I believe that was the last time I ever saw Esteban, however, that jump was a turning point in my life. For when I have faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles, or anything unfamiliar, daunting, or striking fear in me, I think back to that day when I made my first jump. Although I made a few more jumps before I hung up my chute, that first vivid jump …… that’s what I think about when the temptation to fear creeps in.
My life is very different now. I made some monumental changes after this event. Skydiving became my paradigm for life. Untethering from my past, like untethering from the plane, letting go and opening up to new adventures, opened doors to new possibilities and new experiences. Life is more authentic now. I am not afraid to try new things or to explore new paths as I once was. Yes, bittersweet or wistful memories do crop up now and then, but I do not regret where I am today. My life and place in this world is because of consciously letting go of that which was unhealthy and binding. Today is good. I am alive and happy again.
How about you? Have you ever experienced an “untethering?” Where are you now? What doors were opened to you? I would love to hear your story.