I’m scared of heights. Really, really scared. Even standing on a chair makes me feel wobbly and awkward. For some reason several years ago I decided to skydive. Actually my nephew John said he wanted to do it for his high school graduation and I felt like I had to do it with him. He changed his mind, I had already made the mental commitment, so I continued to pursue it.
I couldn’t think too much about what I was committing to as I went through the planning process. The one time I tried to visualize it, it terrified and paralyzed me. I guess I developed a clinical mindset about it all…I concentrated on the logistics, thought little about the actual experience.
My friend Damien, who really was just an acquaintance back then, was helping me make the experience happen. I’d always planned to jump tandem, because that is what you do for your first jump, right? Not according to Damien. All of a sudden I realized he was planning for me to do a static line jump…..in other words, jump by myself. Note that I am really not a control freak….I often prefer to go along for the ride and let someone else drive.
When I realized his intent, every fiber of my being screamed “NO!!!!!!” Damien responded with “A tandem is a roller coaster ride, Kim…..you need to fly.” I admit not even knowing me, he said the magic words. If I was going to do it, I wanted to do it fully. I’d ridden plenty of roller coasters….that wouldn’t be anything new. And the thing that came to my mind was “Fear is like pain. There comes a point where it just doesn’t feel worse….it’s going to hit your max tolerance level regardless.” So, the screaming no turned to a “Well, OK” in less than 30 minutes.
I questioned that a bit more when my instructor Amanda showed me the steps that I was going to have to perform to make the jump. Sit in the open doorway of the plane, put one feet on the “step”, with one arm holding onto the wing and with the other hold onto the doorway. Raise yourself up and pivot the other foot to the “step” as you stand and then move both hands to the wing. Scoot over to the end of the wing (yes, feet dangling) until you get the thumbs up indicating it’s time to let go. Then do it and experience the freefall until you see your parachute open.
I looked at Amanda like she was out of her mind. But she said “I know it seems impossible to you….I felt the same way the first time. But I would never let you do it if I didn’t know you could. Really, you will be more scared down here than when you are actually doing it.” Damien agreed with her. So I kept going. Once again that commitment thing kept me from quitting.
And as most of you know, because I have written about it several times before, I did it. And I loved it. There was fear, but because I had to focus on what I was doing I didn’t have time to indulge it. I climbed out of that plane, scooted over closer to the end of the wing, and when Amanda gave me the signal (prematurely, I thought), I let go.
It was a great life lesson and I will never forget it. Living without risk, without taking chances, without confronting fear, doesn’t appeal to me these days. Life is short and I want to live it well. I continue to pursue the things that scare me, because facing them has given me sweet, sweet rewards. If I don’t succeed, then I have tried and there is a certain pride and satisfaction in that. I can live with the consequences. But when I succeed, I feel that I have sucked a bit more joy out of life.
I still have plenty of fears, some that I don’t feel the need to conquer. But the longer list is those that I plan to face down. Because that feeling during the freefall, when you snub your nose at the fear and remind yourself it doesn’t control you….it makes you braver about most things and more open to all of the good things life has to offer. And even if it ends badly, or isn’t quite what you had expected, it’s time better spent than playing it safe and living blandly. I don’t think God gave us life so we would cower in a corner and not taste and see all of his goodness. We should enjoy the gift fully and fearlessly….put away the timid and live.