5.30.2017

There's No Crying in Skydiving

(I promise I didn’t cry, but I did think about it.)

Skydiving honestly wasn’t on my bucket list.  I’d gone paragliding and ridden in a hot air balloon before, and for me, those things had been sufficient.  It wasn't that I was scared to do it, I’d just always felt like I could take it or leave it.
But then I got into grad school and considered moving across the country by myself, and I felt dwarfed by all kinds of fears – moving by myself, going back to school, being a newbie in a big, big city. . .and for some reason, the notion of skydiving resurfaced.  Maybe I could do something really big and scary and a little reckless, like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, so that I could prove to myself that I could do something else that was big and scary and a little reckless, like letting go of the familiarity of my friends and support network in AZ for the unknown of Chicago.
Or maybe I’m a budding adrenaline junkie?
Kilee surprised me by getting me tickets for my birthday, and I was grateful that she’s so adventurous (and generous!!) and was 100% willing to try it out with me. 
I didn’t actually feel petrified about what I was voluntarily about to do with my body until we were at the jump site, signing away our legal right to sue in the event that any of us were to, you know, DIE from our thrill-seeking.  No big.
As the buff military men strapped us into our harnesses and gave us instructions on how to exit the plane, I crawled into my mind palace and narrowed everything that was about to happen down to the pivotal moment of this whole experience: the decision to jump.  I don’t want to get trite and cheesy, peppering this post with metaphors about the leap of faith or taking the plunge, but the whole notion of what I was about to do was disconcerting enough that I needed to break it down and compartmentalize it in my mind.  Paperwork, harnesses, going up in the plane: all of that was in anticipation of the jump.  The actual falling and parachuting to the ground were residual effects/consequences of the jump, over which I had little control.  All it came down to was choosing to jump out of the plane or not, and with my feet firmly on the ground and my body familiar with how gravity affected it, I already knew what I wanted to do.   
My decision to skydive made me think about the social experiment in which people were paid to climb up onto a 33-foot high diving platform and walk to the edge.  They were free to choose whether they wanted to jump into the pool or climb back down, but the point of the experiment was to capture the human experience of doubt, and how humanity is united by seeing others "overcoming our most cautious impulses" in a relatable but innocuous setting.  As I watched the experiment play out, I remember thinking, “Just do it! Just jump!” from the comfort of my bedroom.  But then I tried to put myself in these people’s places, considering if I would feel quite so cavalier if I were the one on top of that diving platform. By making my decision ahead of time, I purposefully eliminated the option of leaving it up for deliberation once I was more than 2 miles above the ground, dangling out of a tiny aircraft.    
For the flight up, there were six of us crammed into a little seatless Cessna – Kilee and I, our tandem jumpers, and then the videographers who would be filming outside footage of our jumps.  The 20-minute plane ride up was oddly calming, though I couldn’t keep from glancing at the altimeter on Kilee’s videographer’s wrist as we steadily circled higher and higher.  Around 8,000 feet up, my jumper, Max, asked me lift myself up to sit on his lap and then lean back into his chest so he could begin hooking his harness to mine.  (JK, this was the real reason I decided to skydive.)
And then at 12,000 feet, Kilee was the first to jump.  “Door!” her tandem jumper Scott called out, and with a cold whoosh, he opened up the side of the plane. Kilee and Scott maneuvered into position, and one moment they were there, the next moment they were gone.  Kileeeeee!
And then it was my turn.  Max and I had been squished into the back of the plane, facing the tail, and he now scooted us towards the front and in the direction of the open door.  Despite having definitively made my earlier decision, as we neared the exit, I found both of my hands instinctively grasping for purchase, blindly reaching out for something to grab onto in order to steady myself in what now felt like a precarious situation.  Max patiently redirected my hands to my harness, which I’d been instructed to hold onto as we jumped.  Nik, my cameraman, had already scampered outside of the plane and was hanging onto the wing, waiting so we could all jump together and he could film me.  Max and I slid over so that his left leg and both of mine were hanging outside the airplane, and I was gazing down at the ground so, so far below us. 
The day Kilee bought me these skydiving tickets, she’d posted a video to my Facebook wall of Will Smith talking about facing your fears.  To illustrate his point, he’d gone skydiving, and then used that experience to relay his message. He talked about the door of the plane opening, and that being the scariest part of this whole ordeal, following it up with the realization that the point of maximum danger is also the point of minimum fear.  And as I dangled tenuously into the void below, I wasn’t actually scared.  Rather, it was a surreal and beautifully abstract moment.
Ultimately, Max was the one to lean forward and send us tumbling out of the plane. To be honest, it was such an out of body experience that I don’t remember a lot of it, and it was over so fast. The cold wind rushed up towards me, drying out my mouth as I screamed my lungs out about the bigness of this moment that I WAS SKYDIVING.  And then our 60-second free fall was over before I could fully comprehend what was happening.  Max pulled the ripcord and the parachute unfurled, abruptly slowing our descent.  We drifted lazily downward, and Max let me control the parachute handles, spinning us around in dizzying circles as we floated back to the ground. 
So yeah, you could definitely say that I've upped my game for future rounds of "Never Have I Ever."

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