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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