People mark their milestone birthdays differently. Me, I chose a fundamental leap of faith. One month before my 40th birthday, at 12,500 feet, I jumped out of an airplane. I did it quite calmly and without any expectations.
Strangely enough, it didn’t really hit me until I was in a Delta passenger airplane on my way home from California.
Watching the altimeter on the back of the seat in front of me beside the moving map, at close to 12,500 feet, I looked out the window; and suddenly felt mildly ill.
I jumped from this height? And I wasn’t nervous? What’s wrong with me? Not even butterflies? That’s just not normal. What an experience!
And it started with such simple instructions: “Cross your arms across your chest, then just walk out of the airplane. When you step out, lean back on me,” Piya, my tandem master from Perris Skydiving said calmly. “Then kick your feet backwards, and hold them there until I tap your arm – then you can assume the freefall position.”
Just walk right out of the airplane? (It’s like he was telling me to walk off the curb onto the street … but even then someone would probably caution you to look both ways.)
“Just walk out and lean back?” I queried.
“Yes, just walk out and lean back against me,” he replied.
Since he didn’t seem too concerned about it, I wasn’t either, and I followed his instructions.
Before I knew it we were engaged in a relatively effortless back tuck in the air, serenaded by the rush of the wind. Then I found myself horizontal in the basic freefall position for just under a minute, smiling at Rock, the camera man, who was falling effortlessly in front of me.
Piya then spun us around like a top on a table, before he had me pull the ripcord to open the parachute. With a slightly violent jerk we were jostled vertical and suddenly it was quite quiet and peaceful.
We were now sailing more slowly toward Perris, Calif., which was still a really, really far away.
Still, I had no butterflies, no panic, no real concern. Perhaps the two one-minute segments of indoor skydiving in a wind tunnel with 120 mph winds underneath me practicing the freefall arch had prepared me sufficiently? It was more likely that I was not concerned because of the complete faith I had in Piya, who had been jumping for more than 20 years. (When he found out that I was Canadian, he told me he had been in Trenton before, when he helped train the Canadian military skydive.) I felt safe.
Then we banked … my stomach turned more violently than the parachute. We banked several more times, perhaps to line us up for the landing, or to let me get a feel for turning the parachute myself? Maybe Piya wanted to show me the sights in every direction during our canopy ride. Frankly, I was more concerned about showing him the contents of my stomach.
So there we were, having a conversation at x-thousand feet, me and my tour guide in the sky. He pointed out a small patch of grass and told me that’s where we’d be landing. All I was thinking was: “You mean we’ll be landing on the Band-aid-size patch of grass surrounded by pavement and some unwelcoming looking dusty landscape?”
As we approached the ground Piya reminded me, “I’ll ask you to lift up your feet before we land.”
The ground was now coming up to meet us seemingly more quickly, as things that were barely visible were now clearly people, trees, cacti, and other things I wouldn’t want to land upon. Then, there was the strip of grass, now a decent size. As I lifted my feet, we cruised to a very soft seated landing and the parachute floated in front of us.
Rock, my wonderful cameraman, welcomed me back to land and to “their world” of flying. If you want to see the video he shot, you can go to http://www.skydiveperrisvideo.com/#!mode=view&date=06-24-2012¤t_jump=1263112 (There is a commercial for the first two minutes.)
Rock’s flight suit had the words “faith” on one side and “surrender” on the other. I was struck by the beauty and simplicity of those words, and they explained my lack of butterflies. I had surrendered to life as it happened, and had faith that I’d be able to handle whatever came next.
The whole experience was surreal and, even though my time off the ground was mere minutes, it was clearly an experience I would carry with me for a lifetime. After all, if I didn’t get nervous jumping out of an airplane, I figure I’m well-placed for whatever life throws at me in my next 40 or so years on this planet.