Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.
—Leonardo da Vinci
I had just come to the end of an exceptionally traumatic year. Circumstances beyond my control had thrown my world upside down and I was forced to work through the emotionally exhausting work of repairing my life. The feeling like I had absolutely no control over my life was both angering and frightening.
It was a beautiful day in late August. The journey was long, but the anticipation was more than a distraction. At first I thought our GPS had taken us down a wrong turn because it looked like we were in the middle of Nowhere, Ontario, but driving a little further down the dirt country road and we saw the sign that told us we had arrived. The air was still, the sun was warm and there were beautiful fluffy white clouds dotting the sky as far as the eye could see. We were early but I figured if I showed up early, maybe they would take me sooner. I had wanted to do this for a long time but indecision was my driving force behind complacency. It was only when my world had come crashing down that I was prompted to act. And today was the day, I was finally going to jump out of an airplane.
If I was going to be put into a situation where I felt out-of-control I wanted to be the one who put myself in that position rather than what I had experienced over the past twelve months.
I walked into the trailer adjacent the airport hangar where I was greeted by a youthful young woman. She had me fill out the necessary paperwork, including the waiver releasing them from liability in the event that I died, and then I was instructed to wait.
We waited for three hours.
Others were ahead of me. Dozens of brave, crazy, and enigmatic people were all waiting to be take up into the sky just to free-fall back toward the earth. My excitement was palpable and I could feel the rush of adrenaline before I was even hooked into my harness.
My son, in an attempt to disarm me, had told me in the days before about a woman who had gone sky diving on her birthday, she was seventy or something, and she had fallen out of her harness while in free-fall. I looked up the video online and sure enough, that actually happened. She survived but note to self: don’t loosen harness. When the airport owner took us all aside to instruct us on the finer points of safety and what we needed to know I was immediately reassured. I would be strapped to a qualified and certified jumper who was going to do all of the hard work. All I had to do was keep my head back, feet held back between his legs, and jump when he says jump!
The ride in the little two prop plane was bumpy, and we were all packed in like happy sardines. The men and women who had jumped a thousand times before were raucous and care-free, I liked them all immediately. I wanted to be like them.
At an elevation of approximately 17, 000 feet the plane hatch was opened and it was time for us to go. Looking down all I could see was white. The jump out of the airplane was seamless; it looked like all we had done was leap into a layer of freshly fallen snow. I was damp, my hair was wind-whipped and my ears needed to be popped but the rush of falling at exceptionally fast speed—faster than any motor vehicle on land—was amazingly liberating. Descending through the clouds and eventually seeing the ground come into view propelled my line of sight across a vast landscape of farmland and shoreline approaching at an alarmingly quick pace.
Once we pulled our chute we were jerked immediately into a slow descent and my tandem jumper estimated we were then at an elevation of approximately 5,000 feet. The lack of sound at that height was mesmerizing. I could hear the sound of my own heartbeat as we gracefully floated down toward the waiting earth below. It was the first time I had experienced peace since my world had been torn apart and my urge to sob in gratuitous response surged through my body. This is what it must feel like to fly. I didn’t want my feet to find solid ground.
But we did land. I didn’t die. And life moved forward. My emotions began to heal and my anger ebbed away.
I couldn’t control the circumstances that turned my world upside down, but it didn’t kill me. If I can survive jumping from an airplane then I could survive anything.
A year later I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My world again had been ripped from beneath my feet, but it hasn’t killed me yet. And I am still here, still living and breathing and still remembering what it was like to fly.