I stared at the certificate. A certificate for tandem skydiving. It was a gift for my fortieth birthday from my husband. Good grief. Jumping out of a plane and parachuting to the ground?
We lived in southeastern Washington state at the time, and from a private airport nearby our family orchard, a guy offered tandem skydiving. I don’t remember the guy’s name. What do I remember? Entering a small airport facility and obligingly watching a safety video. Then, scrawling my name on scores of papers to sign off any future liability claims on the guy and his small business. I admit, I didn’t read the paperwork, too impressed with the reality that this gift indeed came with risks.
I remember donning a one-piece suit, very lightweight and colorful. I wore my farm boots and mittens, knowing it would be colder higher in the air. We walked to a personal aircraft and the guy humfed-phoofed open a door. He attached a halter to his upper body then attached a halter to my upper body.
One last click and we were securely attached together. The guy directly behind me. We slid in and sat on the floor of the plane. No seats.
Through anxious eyes, I noticed the pilot was sitting on an upturned bucket. The question came to mind of, a bit rinky-dink don’t you think, Cheryl? But on the farm, rinky-dink was common especially when something broke and a job needed to get done ASAP.
The motor revved. Blades twirled. The plane moved forward and lifted off the ground. The pilot knew what he was doing.
As the plane gained altitude and circled, my heartrate increased. Paralysis set in.
The guy behind periodically looked at his watch, which included an altimeter. I could see the watch because we were attached and when he stuck his arm out, the watch was inches from my face.
A couple of times, he said, “It’s okay if you want to back down now. Say the word and we will go down.”
I almost did say, go down, but later figured that the paralysis that kept me from speaking was more my desire to accept this gift despite the risks.
Then he said, “I’ll open the door and count out loud. On three, jump and arch your back.”
My brain could not process his words along with my desires and fears and wonderings about the children’s piano lessons later. My mind, however, stopped listening to the “me” brain. I had to obey the immediate need so kept repeating as a reminder: On three, jump and arch my back. On three, jump and arch my back. On three, jump and arch my back.
The door went open. I gasped. But on three, jumped and arched my back.
Motor noise was replaced with strong wind. I couldn’t breathe. Air would not go in or out of my nose or mouth. I held my mittened hand in front of my face to block the wind force. Allowing me to breathe.
I looked around. Held my arms out. Completely unaware of the guy attached to me behind.
I listened to beyond the wind. Unseen air currents spoke. Ah-ha, thank you for supporting me, I thought. Then I recalled the guy behind me. He knew how to work with the unseen force, without trying to control it.
A parachute whooshed open. Silence.
I identified an existence intact with the vast landscape of sky, farms, houses, trees, and roads. It countered, no, it encompassed, my familiar yet limited picture of our home community, of which for decades, I’d only absorbed from the ground or inside a plane. This new picture showed the possibility of more. More wholeness.
Soon, we landed in a circle marked out on the ground, within walking distance to the airport, where my husband and two daughters waited to take home a shaky, giddy wife and mother.
I was exhausted for two days. Pretty sure I used a year worth of adrenaline that early clear morning when I accepted a gift that came with risks, kind of like accepting the unseen yet powerful gift of forgiveness for being hurt or hurting others while working to meet the immediate need.
Tagged: my birthday, tandem skydiving, turning forty
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