Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Now This is Living

"That's not something I would do."
This was my Dad's response.
"Well, I am glad you got that opportunity."
That was my Mom's, but she didn't sound glad.
What were they talking about?
Me jumping out of a plane.
Yup, I did it. Took the plunge.
And it was one of the BEST things I have ever done. Truly life changing. Exhilarating. Mind-blowing. And you can add about three dozen other California-surfer-girl adjectives like awesome, gnarly, cool, radical and well, crazy.

Before I jumped, I was in the waiting area at the airport, watching parachutes get folded by guys in red shirts while nervous jumpers walked in and out of the waiting room. They would head out to the plane with furrowed brows and tight fists and come back with huge smiles and windblown hair. The next person to jump was a man with dark hair and jeans.
"Number 6 or number 9? Pick one." His instructor asked him.
"What am I picking?" The man looked confused.
"The device that is going to save our lives." The instructor pointed to two parachutes leaning up against the wall.
"Oh! Ah, number 9." He said with a nervous laugh. The instructor picked up the number 9 parachute, which looked like a giant black backpack, and swung it over his shoulder.
I sat with my mouth open thinking about what he just said.
"The device that is going to save our lives."

Am I trying to kill myself?
Playing "Chicken" with death?
No, no, NO! That's not what I'm doing here, is it? I am just having fun! Trying something new! Checking off something on my bucket list! Certainly, I AM taking a risk, but risking my life? Really?
Yes. That is exactly what I am doing.
I didn't breathe for a minute.
No wonder I had to sign twenty pages of liability waivers when I came in! Most of them said things like, "You agree not to sue us if you die." I initialed and signed, signed and initialed, showed ID and signed again. I almost expected to have to sign in blood at one point, but luckily no finger pricking was involved.
No wonder my parents looked pale when I told them I was going to skydive.
No wonder a co-worker hugged me tearfully "just in case I don't come back."
No wonder I didn't tell my sister. The first time I was scheduled to jump (the date got postponed) she asked how much it cost and I told her I had found a deal on Groupon so it wasn't too bad. She gasped.
"You are doing a GROUPON skydive? Are you crazy? This better not be Pepe's Bargain Skydiving!" She was so horrified that I decided not to tell her when the date got rescheduled.
So I get it.
I WAS risking my life.
But then I thought about it.
Isn't that what we do every day just by living?
Do we not risk our lives just getting out of bed in the morning and driving to work?
Every time we walk along a busy road?
Ride a bike? Drive over a bridge? Fly in a plane?
Eat a donut? Drink alcohol?
Maybe "death" doesn't always race up toward us at 150 miles an hour like it did during my jump, but it is still approaching. Still a reality. Still imminent. We just don't think about it because we don't (usually) have a parachute on our back and nothing but air under our feet.
Part of the reason I didn't consider my jump a "dance with death" was because instructor was great. He put me at ease and made the whole experience fun with his casual demeanor, friendly banter and easy to understand instructions. I was glad he was strapped to my back even if it meant he was going to chuck me backwards out of a plane. I knew he was going to keep me safe. He was an experienced pro. Plus, I tipped him BIG and up front. My life was in his hands. This was not the time to be cheap.

Sure, I was risking my life, but that is not what I felt like I was doing. On the way up in the plane, I felt peaceful and blissful. During the jump, I felt like I was enjoying life (except for the first part where I was free-falling.That felt like well, free-falling.) Afterwards, I felt more alive than ever, so invigorated, so joyful. I swear I listened to "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina the Waves over and over for days after my jump. I couldn't get the smile off my face. Couldn't stop talking about it. When I showed the video of my jump to a staff member at work he asked if the video had been "enhanced." I said no. It was just a go pro video my dive instructor had filmed with a small camera fastened to his wrist. I had it in my hands 15 minutes after my jump. There was no time for fancy editing even though for the amount of money I paid for it you would have thought George Lucas directed it. I asked why he thought the video had been enhanced. Because you are glowing in that video. You look like there is light coming from you.
I WAS glowing. I was full of light. Full of LIFE. I had just ridden up to 15,000+ feet, climbed out of a small plane and hurled myself into the blue. The wind yanked my hair, pulled back my face and ripped out an earring and all I could do was smile and yell "WooooHoooo! Yeah Baby!" like a crazy, drunk teenager at a Katy Perry concert. I wasn't afraid. I wasn't nervous. I had an instructor on my back who handled everything, including pulling the cord to send up our parachute--the device that saved our lives. I don't know the number of the parachute we used, he didn't ask me to choose one, he just picked one and put it on. I don't care what number it was. It worked. And I got to use it to float in the air for several minutes, steering with the wind over the farmlands of Camarillo, gazing out at the Pacific Ocean and sneaking a peek at Lake Casitas, shimmering like a diamond in the hills. I stared down at the onion farms and strawberry fields and watched the sunlight stream through the wispy cirrus clouds. I soared like a bird with the cool wind in my face, not a drop of spit left in my mouth, goggles around my neck, all the while thinking:
Now THIS is living.
Oh, and...

Where the heck are we going to land??

-Hope A. Horner, 2015
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