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Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep… My PRAYER?

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Prayer bed.jpg

GOD… Shmod…

I’m sorry if my words and irreverence are hurtful or disdainful to you.

I don’t want my blog posts to cause anyone pain … truthful (from my perspective) but not painful.

As a child, I was taught to kneel next to my bed, hands pressed together beneath my little chin, and pray to God…

And now I lay me down to sleep…

… before climbing under the covers for the night.

For the next hour, I’d anxiously lie there, blankets pulled up over my nose, hoping that no Where The Wild Things Are monster would crawl out from under the bed or burst through the doorway and cut me into pieces and eat me.

I was an anxious child. I had my own Calvin and Hobbes world.

Sleep would eventually descend over me like a drifting parachute and I was safe from the imaginary devils inside my head for another day.

Whew! Prayer answered.

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Happily, I made it through the omnipresent – artificial – dangers and survived into adulthood where the only – real – monsters that exist show up on CNN routinely.

I’ve told you before that I’m not a believer in an omnipotent deity… male, female or any other non-binary choice.

It’s not a big deal and I don’t want to write evangelically atheistic rants like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins.

I respect the desire and need for religion…the salve of poverty, war, disease,  interpersonal hell… I wish it wasn’t necessary, but I understand its basis and the comfort it gives to millions.

I don’t want to judge others and their beliefs just as I don’t need or want someone hovering overhead judging me… we all have reasons for our weaknesses and faults. I judge myself pretty harshly and that’s all I can handle.

If I was a devout believer I’d probably be a better person.

I’d probably be more like Lauraine the head lady that I work with when I volunteer to chop and slice and dishwash at the Penticton soup kitchen.

Lauraine is a pious Catholic with a lively sense of humour and a Mother Teresa-like aura of warmth. She treats every person with dignity and respect and sees the inner good that so often doesn’t show on the outside of troubled people, which is everyone.

Lauraine knows I’m a non-believer but if I ever have a difficulty in any area of my life she assures me that she’ll pray for me or my loved ones. And even though I don’t believe it will have any direct impact, I feel good inside knowing that she’s sending some positive vibes.

I don’t believe in a God, but I do believe in the power of individuals to make a god-like difference for those in their circle of influence. Lauraine is real and affects my world.

Also, my inspiration doesn’t flow through the Bible, the Sutra, the Vedas, the Quran or the Torah, though each carries a wealth of wisdom.

Wisdom and understanding is cached away in a multitude of places other than religious texts. Hopefully wisdom informs beliefs.

Sometimes we come to believe in something as an accepted fact even though there’s no rational or sensible underpinning to that belief.

I was reminded of this natural human tendency when I saw a replay of perhaps my most favourite segment of television ever, of course written by one of my very favourite screenwriters, Aaron Sorkin, in the HBO series The Newsroom.

It’s a Shakespeare-style soliloquy spoken by a fictional TV news anchorman (Will McAvoy aka Jeff Daniels) during a university debate.

A young female sophomore student asks a seemingly simple question that everyone in the room takes for granted has an obvious underlying truth.

 

There’s a humungous lump in my throat right now.

Now you might ask where am I going with this whole ramble about prayer and I guess the answer is a simple… I’m not sure.

McAvoy’s monologue is filled with observable facts that would have us examine our belief in the “apparently obvious”. My biases align with his rant. His words are my prayer.

Powerful words delivered with eloquence.

I get it. Prayer is powerful. Prayer makes us weak and strong at the same time.

I love the sense of reverence and historic wonder I feel when I stand or sit in a church, a cathedral, a synagogue, a temple, a mosque.

I love the sound of the archaic words, thou and whence and messiah, and the swell of pipe-organ music reverberating off high arched ceilings.

So, even though I miss the halcyon days of kneeling next to my bed and talking to something or someone greater than my tiny mortal being, I can’t truly recapture those moments of prayer with the same innocence and sense of awe.

The only prayer that exists for me now is the active voice in my head that observes and confers and sifts and debates like crazy.

It’s the godless prayer of observation and wonder, confusion and fear, respect and admiration, love and desire, hope and optimism.

If I should die before I wake… well, I guess the monster under my bed finally got me.

Monster under bed

 

 

 

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WORLD ON FIRE!

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OK fire

Okanagan Valley fire this week…

FIRESTORM…

I’m a new age kind of primeval guy…

I love words and their power and usage… and … I love fire, although at times I fear its power and usage…

Fire can be fun, even flirty.

I play around with words like kindle, spark, burning, ignited, flicker, fuming, blaze, zeal, combustion, inferno, smouldered.

Every one of these words says FIRE.  But in your mind, each also kindles other thoughts, right?

Let me give you a small example of some presumed (cheesy Harlequin-style!) fiery narrative from the movie When Harry Met Sally.

The first time they met through a mutual friend, Sally didn’t have even a flicker of love for Harry. By contrast, as he spit grape seeds out the car window on a “friendly” road trip to New York, Harry looked over and thought to himself, “Sally is hot.” 

Ten years later when they met once again, they instantly felt a spark of sexual attraction, a kindling of desire for each other, but they tried to ignore the inner coals of ardour.

Beneath it all however, their true feelings kept smouldering.

Finally one night, in an unexpected development, their passions inflamed and blazed, and they made love. 

That was fun FIRE.

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BURNING INFERNO!

Language fills me with delicious wonder in how we transform and manipulate certain words into other meanings that give depth and nuance to the joy of speech and writing. Wordplay in the novels we read, the movies we watch, brings us a kaleidoscope of delight.

But. Yes, there’s always a but.

Fire can be frightening.

Today, I’m looking over this computer screen and out my window at a not-too-distant wall of grey-white smoke.

A sooty curtain obliterates any view I typically have of the picturesque hillsides filled with Ponderosa Pines speckling the east side of Okanagan Lake.

Three nights ago, forks of jagged lightning dramatically crashed to ground minus any rainfall that may have quelled the youthfully energetic flames that erupted.

As the sun set, creamsicle-orange flames flicked the dark sky, reaching their fingers up to share their fiery heat with the moon and stars.

It was as startlingly beautiful as a Hawaiian sunset over the Pacific but much more ominous than romantic.

And now, when the sun arises each morning, the beautiful clear vistas we’ve enjoyed for the first month of summer have transformed into hazy greys and browns and oranges set against a noisy sky full of water bomber planes, aircraft bearing huge bellies of bright red retardant, helicopters with big buckets trailing beneath.

The heavens are abuzz as if a heavy, swarming mosquito infestation has suddenly hatched.

The perennial regularity of fire is the new normal in this dry interior valley; each summer season brings a host of rippling flames to one section or another of our tree-laden hills.

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Fire is heavenly… fire is hell… we love fire… we hate fire.

I’ve played with fire my entire life… most psychiatrists would slot me into the pyromaniac category with little hesitation.

The best part of camping when I was a kid was the arrival of sunset in the trees, when I’d kindle little fires inside a stone circle next to our family tent-trailer, happily feasting on the heady scent of smoke, poking away at the mesmerizing glimmer of coals crackling and popping.

I loved receiving cheap cologne sets as a birthday gift, not only because it triggered a momentary sense of being grown up but… yes… the alcohol in the fragrant elixir made for fun little fires on the concrete floor in my garage… thinking back, I probably smelled of smoke until I was 13 years old. Bottle that, Calvin Klein or Armani!

Later on, in my first lab job in Yellowknife, while collecting blood samples, I looked forward to entering the hospital rooms of tiny elderly Inuit women who’d be snacking on wild red berries and who reeked of strong wood smoke. I’d breathe deeply of the musky scent they carried from their far north homes. So much sweeter than my birthday colognes!

Fire can create sadness and calamity.

A woman I work with when I’m bartending these days lost a child in a motel fire years back. Her baby snatched away in an instant. How could she ever again look at or think of fire without reliving a horror tragedy? Where does she find her smile thanks to fire?

Musically, I remember Stan Rogers, a treasured Canadian singer/songwriter (Northwest Passage , Barrett’s Privateers) with huge potential who perished at age 33 in an airplane fire on the tarmac in Cincinnati. Smoke-snuffed possibilities and promise.

FIRE. Beauty and the Beast.

Where would we be as humanity without fire.

The fire in her eyes. The fire in his belly.

Fire is enthusiasm, fire is lust, fire is fearsome, fire is strength.

You’re fired! Fire at will! 

It’s fire that feeds our hungry bellies and fire that feeds our vivid imaginations.

Yes… merely peering out my window this week at wind-fanned smoke and flames has struck a fire in my head with words and ideas that carry me along this journey from my past…  to my today… and give me inspiration for the future.

That is one powerful word.

FIRE.

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Surprises, Epiphanies, And Seeds.

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seeds

In 1977 I had a life changing-, life expanding-epiphany.

The epiphany? I had choices. WE have choices. 

Seeds.

I had just recently left my teen years, turning 20 years old, a freshly minted college grad… thick, dark hair and a future of limitless potential, but…

… I didn’t know that I had choices. Really?

I knew there were boxes I could open that contained minor differences, but the general course of my life was pre-determined as if I were some young Amish kid.

Pre-determined similarly to 50 years earlier when girls had free choice to be anything they wanted, you know, either… teacher or nurse. Woo Hoo!

Choice?

Not real, life changing choices where I raised the jib and held the rudder. Choices that let me contain and control the wind.

Foolishly, I didn’t know that until I picked up the phone one late September morning and a lady on the other end of the line said:

“Larry, this is Marg Ramsden in Yellowknife. We received your resume for a lab job and we’d like you to come and work for us.”

Yellowknife! Yellowknife?

Did I really send a resume to Yellowknife? What was I thinking? Yellowknife?

Arctic-ice-cold-dark-winter-night-isolated-Eskimo-territory Yellowknife? (remember, Eskimo was a happily acceptable term for the Inuit in 1977).

Then… I was offered another lab position that very same day in the Hamilton hospital lab Blood Bank where I had interned.

That was the box I was conditioned to expect.

Obviously an easy decision, right? At least I thought so.

Nice big city 600-bed hospital job crossmatching blood vs. tiny cold remote northern 72-bed hospital where I’d cover all the lab departments (hospital labs usually encompass Blood Bank, Haematology, Microbiology, Histology and Biochemistry).

Why would I trade the familiar homey scent of Hamilton smog and my “Oskey Wee Wee” Tiger Cat football team for belligerent black flies, murderous mosquitoes and -45C temperatures?

Then I surprised myself.

Yup, there can be unexpected earth-tremors along our journey.

Surprise. Life changing.

Yes, I burned away the easy choice and nervously put myself onboard a Pacific Western Airlines (PWA) Boeing 737 in Toronto that touched down first in Edmonton, then in Yellowknife, on a chill October Arctic evening as lovely tiny snowflakes fell.

I was so isolated and naive in my little world that I had tried to book a flight on TWA (TransWorld Airlines) instead of PWA … the TWA agent had no idea what the hell a “Yellowknife” was… I had no idea what the hell a “PWA” was.

My palace was shattered like a beach sandcastle hit by a rogue wave, but I only realized that in retrospect.

That was the first seed.

crumbling palace

As I slowly grew acclimatized and comfortable in this foreign northern life, my slightly older roommate kept talking about the great time he’d had travelling throughout Europe a couple years back. I would never do that. Never.

Of course, my roommate did a lot of crazy things like drinking an entire bottle of beer while standing on his head at parties.

I’d never try that either. NEVER.

But the seed was planted.  No, not THAT seed! I’ve never quaffed a beer while standing on my head.

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And so, two years later in 1979 I backpacked my way throughout Western Europe. (a few years ago, I wrote about an unusual event from that trip in another post.)

Another seed.

That was a surprise. Never ever dreamed of doing that until I did.

It was slowly dawning on me that the choices in my life were mine to make if I only opened my head to possibility… oh yeah, that and… conquering the fear factor, just like I conquered (OK, conquered may be too strong a word… I edged by…) the fear factor in jumping out of an airplane a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve enjoyed gardening, sowing and tending beautiful flowers and vegs and fruits since I was a wee gopher. I know, weird kid!

Once you become a gardener and can finally see that seeds are what grow into luscious plants that nourish us, well, you begin paying attention and looking for seeds to blow into your yard.

Some seeds turn out to be weeds that are ugly and beg to be pulled and composted. Out, damned spot! out, I say!

But then other seeds land lightly, push through the fresh earthy humus and put on an amazing display like you’ve never ever seen.

These are the seeds and plants you tenderly water and provide nutrients so that artistic natural beauty is of your own making.

Choices are the seeds that we can select to make into our life art.

Not every seed is a ravishing stunner, a scented rose, a splendiferous bougainvillea, but we can’t always tell the beauties from the rejects until we give them a try.

As John Denver sang, “… some days are diamonds, some days are stone…“… or why not a bit more bluntly from Mary Chapin Carpenter, “… sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug…”

A tiny example? Sure. More recently, a small seed that’s become a beautiful bloom for me has been tutoring a young Syrian fellow.

While he thanks me profusely, believing that I’m giving him a big jump in his new calmer world in Canada, in reality, we’re both gardeners that are enjoying the fruitful benefits of expanding our worlds.

The laughter we share when he knows he’s being mischievous in English and whispers the “F” word with a sly grin reminds me of how interconnected and similar we all are despite the huge differences.

I’ve had lots of surprises and epiphanies and seeds that drifted into my sightlines over the years.

My eyes may be growing older, but in some surprising ways, I can see better now than I ever have in my life.

Baby-With-Funny-Glasses

13 Ways To AVOID Checkout Diarrhea & Vomiting

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General-Store

grocery aisle

Supermarket shopping is kind of routine fun, isn’t it? Sometimes?

Most weeks, like children with baby carriages, we roll our little buggies up and down long concrete-floored aisles, each side of those aisles filled to the gunnels with FOOD.

How things have changed.

One hundred years ago, you’d walk into a shop with a bell above the door that jingled when you entered.

Then, you sidled over to a counter where a man or his wife, that you’ve known your whole life, stood with a neat apron ready to gather the provisions you’d need to eat and live for the next week, or two weeks, or a month.

Once collected together, there were no plastic or paper bags to put it all inside. Perhaps you had a hand-sewn sack you brought with you to carry your sugar and salt and flour.

It’s a scene plucked right from Anne of Green Gables; Anne Shirley and Matthew Cuthbert place their order while Anne fantasizes about puffy-sleeved dresses in the window and Matthew fantasizes on buying a butcher’s knife to hack out his sister Marilla’s tongue to stop her incessant nagging and chatter!

But… I have yet to see a historical film or photo that showed ANY magazines lined up in neat racks beside the counter for the amusement or education of the shopper.

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Through today’s eyes, how did we ever survive without this information and hot tips, advice and enlightenment? 8 Ways To Easily Gut A Hog or Pick Your Perfect Corset would have sold faster than buckets of lard or molasses in 1906.

All of this is to say that shopping has changed dramatically and is changing even more at this point in history.

The mags and tabloids play on our insecurities of how we do everything from painting window trim to whether anal-oral sex is A-OK (yeah, it’s not!).

The headlines foment worry and anxiety.

One of the best ways to avoid anxiety and stress – to avoid fears of inferiority or inner terror – I’ve learned in my many many years of shopping, is to avert my eyes totally from the magazine shelves at the checkout cattle chutes.

DANGER & CAUTION warnings should be placed in front of each display where photos of beautifully coiffed stars and starlets, or grotesquely photoshopped pics of Jennifer Aniston or the latest Bachelorette adorn the covers of the glossies along with the BEST information and advice ever offered for incredible sex or amazing beauty or stupendous rock hard pilates abs.

Which all brings me to my point. Sorry to have subjected you to 400 words of nonsense. But thanks for sticking with me this far.

The meat of this post comes now…

Magazine advice

I will share my expertise with you and it won’t cost you a dime.

To save you the bother and distress of exhausting your psychic energy and hard-earned dollars on next week’s grocery run, look away from THOSE headlines and ingest the following simple and succinct (AND free!) advice on trouble avoidance as I offer you …

MY top magazine-style tips:

  1. AVOID STD’s easily don’t get naked with anyone other than yourself. This will also avoid the laughter that accompanies your lover’s first views of you al fresco.. who needs that?
  2. AVOID Childhood Obesitydon’t feed your children. Today’s kids spend far too much time indoors glued to technology. Healthy children will get tons of exercise foraging outdoors for sustenance alongside rats and raccoons.  
  3. AVOID Holiday Weight Gain don’t feed yourself. However, if you insist on pigging out, consume only foods you’ve left at room temperature on the kitchen counter overnight or salads prepared on cutting boards where raw chicken has recently been dissected. 
  4. AVOID Alzheimersdon’t grow old… ever. Participate in fun sports like mountain-climbing, scuba diving, running of the bulls, and skydiving to nudge the avoidance process along.
  5. AVOID saying SH*TKeep your mouth shut. Opening it results in 4-letter profanity of all kinds + obesity, so just keep it closed. If this is too difficult, Home Depot carries staple guns that are invaluable in achieving this objective. Think those words all you want in the wasteland between your ears…
  6. AVOID Airport Security Worry stay home at all times, bombs are everywhere. Want to travel? Watch Anthony Bourdain or Rick Steves on your phone or TV.
  7. AVOID Climate Changepurchase BEANO or anti-gas tabs of your choice… it’s not only cows that produce climate changing methane gas. Mens’ clubs are a dying breed for a reason.
  8. AVOID Gun and Knife Deaththe knights of old wore chain-mail… cops and soldiers wear bullet-proof kevlar vests… so what’s wrong with the rest of us? Why don’t grocery stores and Walmart offer fashionable anti-missile wear for the everyday person? Trés chic … DUH!
  9. AVOID ProcrastinationLook down at your shoes. Are you wearing NIKE runners? Good … then JUST DO IT!
  10. AVOID Food Wastestop buying food that is healthy for you but you hate. Have you seen how much green leafy vegetable matter goes into compost piles and landfills? Nobody throws out potato chips or deep fried fish sticks. Simple, eh?
  11. AVOID Unwanted Pregnancy – see Point #1 above… nobody ever got pregnant masturbating…
  12. AVOID Shark Attacksmove inland and stay away from any water source that contains NaCl. FACT: There have been NO recorded deaths from shark bites in ANY freshwater lake in all of human history… moving inland also offers good anti-tsunami protection as a side benefit.
  13. AVOID naming children Angelina, Brad, Jennifer or Britney – these names are the kiss of death and will bring you a lifetime of astounding wealth but also heartache and unrelenting paparazzi attacks far worse than any shark bite.

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So there.

You now know how to live a satisfying, diarrhea- and vomit-free grocery shopping life.

Of course in today’s shopping world you could easily avoid ALL “checkout distress” by simply ordering your groceries online with delivery to your door.

Truthfully, I’d hate to miss the myriad joys of grocery shopping: the harsh fluorescent lights, the spills in Aisle 7, shopping cart handles saturated with bathroom bacteria and snotty viruses, pumped in Muzak, screaming children and exhausted parents, frigid cold frozen pizza aisles, cart wheels that won’t run straight, and supermarket dents in your car door.

Who would ever really want to avoid THAT?

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Freefalling…

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freefall

 

A slightly muffled engine roar intrudes through the World War I-style headgear…

… my racing heart nuzzles upwards into my throat as I watch the digital readout on my tandem buddy’s altimeter climb higher.

The fateful number 10,000 is getting excruciatingly close…

10,000.

As in, 10,000 feet above the Okanagan Valley bottom that we left about 20 minutes earlier.

As in, 10,000 feet of air to fly through with the aid of a parachute before kissing firm ground once more.

Don’t forget to bend your legs at the knees and tilt your head back when we first leave the plane, keep your arms crossed over your chest until I tap you on the shoulder“, yelled Rocky, my tandem jumping partner, over the plane engine noise.

Really, I should be relaxed and enjoying the sublime views of blue sky, marshmallow-fluff clouds and green valley farms, homes and hillsides below.

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And sure, I am enjoying… Okanagan Lake looks fabulous, blue-black tears in the quiltscape of blues and greens stretched out across the arc of earth…

… but… my mind is becoming more and more focussed on the excitement – more focussed on the fear – factor.

I begin editing my obituary in my head… Suddenly on WednesdayUnexpectedly as a result of …

My friend Jennifer looked back at me in her aviator’s cap – she would jump with her tandem-partner Brett moments after I was airborne – we smiled at each other and fist-bumped.

Then Rocky swung the airplane door up and open and a huge rushing tsunami of wind pulsed over us; we swung our legs, one by one, out the door against the gale and onto the strut a foot or so beneath the opening. OMG, this is really happening

Until this morning, this lovely birthday gift (which I have talked about as a bucket list item for the last couple of years) from my wife Maureen was a fairy tale, a far-in-the-distance occurrence that would eventually happen one day but never today.

Until today became TODAY!

I’m not typically a thrill seeker… NOPE. I singularly lack courage. I fear paper cuts. I feel for the Lion in The Wizard of Oz.

And yet, in the last decade or so it has dawned on me that life is meant to be lived for each moment, each day.

It’s taken me a long time to live and breathe through my fears and not turn away from them as much as I once did.

On the other hand, I may just be stupid.

My mind wandered for a few seconds as the last moments pass before freefall.

I pushed away the ear worm that says “you should be listening to Tom Petty and Freefallin’...”.. I hate that song… get lost Petty!

More interior wandering… leading up to this day, I’ve had an uncomfortable dream where I jumped tandem from the plane, securely connected to my sky-high friend who carried OUR parachute on his back.

The freefall was cocaine-laced amazement.

When my jump-mate pulled the cord to release the parachute, I could feel the upwards tug as the rippling chute gasped and unfolded, catching the air pocket inside.

Then just as rapidly I could sense myself uncoupling, separating from my partner and feel myself continuing along in speedy descent as the metal clasps that had tied us so tightly together mysteriously unlatched and unleashed me once more into fretful freefall. Noooooooo……

the scream

Back to reality… I took one final panoramic glance over the valley, the clouds, the water and pill-sized homes… arms crossed over my chest, head tilted back.

Then we began to rock.

Forward once, then back … forward again, then back… forward again …

…and …  forward more… weightless

… the atmosphere was cool, sky bright, there was no here or now, no bills to be paid, no chores or other people … nothing but rushing air … weightless

Inexplicably, Sarah McLachlan quietly sang In The Arms of The Angel in my ear.

… Rocky took us into an immediate somersault where the sky became the ground and the ground the sky.

No fear now, no shock now, only amazement.

Coming out of the somersault, Rocky tapped my shoulder and I stretched my arms out into wings where I could feel the intense pressure of air against my chest and face, my cheeks and nostrils buffeted up and skyward.

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This is the moment I wish I could freeze-frame and hold onto for seconds, minutes, perhaps hours.

Click. Snapshot. Seconds speed by like the hurricane wind surrounding us.

I can barely absorb the meteoric moment before it’s … gone like a human lifetime set against eternity.

The nightmare dream I had envisioned before quickly evaporates when Rocky releases the parachute and we pulse gently upwards with wind beneath our wings.

It almost seems like a complete halt in the sky at 5,000 feet after the flush of freefall. Our bodies sink into an upright stance and the rushing shrill of wind goes silent.

OMG Rocky, that was incredible. How many times will you do this today?

Could be anywhere from 5 to 10…

The adrenaline rush begins to dissipate and a calmness settles over me like a quiet hug… or maybe that was just Rocky pressed against me. Is that a gun in your pocket?…

Whatever… Rocky loosens off some of the tethers that have bound us closely like conjoined twins. Deep yoga breath. We lift our eye visors and enjoy at a serenely relaxed pace.

Rocky begins giving me an aerial tour of the valley, pointing out landmarks as he “steers” the parachute so that we turn this way and that, looking out in all directions.

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Then he has me take the reins. I tug hard on the yellow straps that dip one side or the other of the chute allowing us to turn easily.

The earth grows ever closer as we dipsydoodle like a child’s crayon on paper with no lines to stay inside.

I crank my head upwards and can spot blue and red-chuted Jennifer floating above us a few hundred metres away. I look down and see my family crew craning their heads skyward back at us.

The ground is coming up fast now and Rocky brings us swooping into the grassy field with a flourish that slows rapidly at the last second as our feet slide over the ground.

We glide on our bums for a few feet, a puff of small gravelly stones and dust streams up.

Then all is still, all is quiet.

……….

We live in deeds, not years; In thoughts, not breaths;
In feelings, not in figures on a dial.
We should count time by heart-throbs.”

 Philip James Bailey

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