The first time I saw skydivers I was a kid growing up in rural Illinois. They looked like they were dropping from the sky into the cornfields. I don’t know where they actually landed, but that’s when I first decided I wanted to do that, too.
Fast forward about forty-five years when a Groupon offer shows up in my inbox. Half price tandem skydive. This is my chance, it’s now or never. Quickly I buy two. I’m pretty sure I can find someone to go with me. My best friend will.
I test out the idea on my daughter who responds, “Um, I’m not sure the first time I go skydiving I want to use a half-price coupon.”
My son says, “I’d probably do it…after I did a thorough background check on the company.”
My friend Cathy’s response is, “Sure.”
We arrive at the airfield well before our nine a.m. appointment to discover the weather is not cooperating. It’s cloudy but it might clear up in the next couple of hours. I didn’t plan on eating before the jump but we went for breakfast and when we returned the jump was on.
We have to sign and initial waivers for every possible contingency. If something happens to us, we have no recourse. I scan each paragraph and initial them all. It isn’t that I haven’t contemplated the worst, I simply have every confidence that I’m not in any danger.
Pascoal introduces himself and straps me into my harness while giving me instructions for the jump. I hope I can remember them all. Cross your arms over your chest, arch your back, chin up, legs between his. I listen while Cathy’s instructor gives her the same speech a minute later. They do this all the time, probably with people even more inattentive and with worse memories than mine.
Once Cathy is in her harness she looks at me and says, “I don’t think I can do this.” Something about that harness across her chest is giving her an attack of claustrophobia. If she doesn’t go, it’s okay. No pressure. (I’m thinking I’ll just go twice…) But a couple of harness adjustments later, that moment of uncertainty passes and she’s fine.
The plane is incredibly tiny. The four of us are wedged in in a particular order and the plane taxis alongside farmland and soon we are off the ground and climbing.
The engine’s loud and my ears start popping. I wonder why I’m not panicking. Why I’m not the slightest bit nervous. I look out the window and down at the landscape and think how lucky I am that I get the opportunity to do this. And how cool it is that God created all of this and I wonder where the first skydiver got the idea it would be fun to jump out of a plane. Cathy points out Tampa in the distance and strawberry fields below.
We climb some more. The engine’s loud, my ears keep popping and pretty soon it’s time. Really? I’m going to jump out of an airplane? I can’t believe I’m going to do this. But I’m not scared. I’m not nervous. After forty-five years, I’m ready.
The belts that are connected to our harnesses come off. Our instructors connect their harnesses to ours which requires a bit of maneuvering on everyone’s part. Then we’re set. The little door pops open and the cold wind rushes in. Cathy’s going first. They get into position. Her foot is on the step one moment and then she’s gone.
Next it’s my turn. I look at the step, the ground below and think, “Am I really doing this?” Then somehow we’ve pushed off and yes, I guess I am really doing this. There’s a rush of wind, a moment of disbelief, a sensation of exhilaration. In seconds it seems there’s a tap on my shoulder which means I can stretch out my arms and we do thumbs up and other little signals as we’re freefalling.
Then there’s the moment when the parachute opens and we’re drifting and I was in awe of all of it. The sky and the earth and the experience and isn’t God great?
We do some drifting and some twirlies and I can see Cathy floating below us. The lower we drop the warmer it gets.
We’re coming in for landing. I’ve already been instructed, feet up as high as I can get them, we’ll land on our butts. We don’t, though. We sort of land on our feet, per Pascoal’s instructions, stumble a bit and we’re safe and sound.
Cathy’s successfully landed about fifty feet away. We give each other a thumbs up, get unbuckled, thank our instructors.
I have to get the souvenir long-sleeved tee shirt because, well, I couldn’t find the long-sleeved tee shirt I’ve had forever that I planned to wear, so it’s being replaced by my “I fell out of the airplane” tee shirt. The $75 video? Didn’t spring for that. Didn’t want anyone to see my jowls flapping in the wind.
I smile all the way home. I almost can’t believe I did it. But Cathy’s already posted the pictures Facebook so it must be true.
I can cross one thing I always wanted to do off my list.
If I can remember where I put that list…
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