Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.
~ Helen Keller
You say the hill’s too steep to climb
You say you’d like to see me try
You pick the place and I’ll choose the time
And I’ll climb
The hill in my own way
~ Fearless, Pink Floyd
If I hesitated, it was only for the sparsest of seconds. I actually don’t even remember looking down. As a matter of fact, I FLUNG myself out (with Ted attached to my back) practically as soon as I reached the plane’s door. I behaved as if I’d been skydiving more than twice in the last 15 years.
It was mid-July (the height of summer in Northeast Ohio) and my friend was home from California. I met Kerry ten years earlier (WOW…time flies…!) at Cleveland’s Midwest Reggae Fest where we’d camped together till its last year in 2016.
Just that morning my feet were securely moving one in front of the other on the ground and I assured no fewer than four people that I had no intention of skydiving that afternoon.
It’s expensive… I’m only working a temp job right now… and I’m going to Europe in three weeks… I reasonably reasoned.
Cleveland Skydiving was celebrating its 50th anniversary with an afternoon of jumping and a night of partying with live music, a bonfire, and camping. I was simply going to watch my friend do her 193rd (and 194th) jump and to have a good time.
Craning my neck and holding my phone upward, I watched for the blue parachute that would bring Kerry back to Earth. One after another, like apparitions of colorful angels, jumpers materialized out of the heavens while onlookers cheered.
For better or worse, I’m easily affected by the energy of others around me. Later that summer, I road tripped to the middle of nowhere / everywhere to span time with the latest (and so far greatest) love of my life at his new home in the Little Apple, As I was passing under the Gateway Arch, the road we were on veered by a twist of fate occurrence and I sensed a change in his vibe.
The ego, being the powerful force that it is, switched into self protection mode and altered my natural tendency toward bouncy happiness and, thus, my willingness to be openly ME. That previous mystical energy we shared that moved us from deep winter scroll writing into spring realization had become guarded and dull and too contrived and… well, relationship energy is cyclical and so it goes…
But on that day, it was still July 14. Both summer and my love (with the answer to Everything seemingly hanging by the thread of his 42nd birthday) were in full bloom. The collective energy in my corner of the universe in that moment of time made me feel as if I were dancing Under a Violet Moon. I was affected and needed to contribute and feel my own energy. The resulting rush of being completely ALIVE from the adrenaline lasted well into the night and lingered into the next few days.
The entire experience up to the point of the freefall was in stark contrast to my first jump during Labor Day weekend 2001. Then, I had bought the entire package – photographer, videographer. Family and friends came to watch. Coworkers chipped in as a farewell gift as I was also in the midst of going to work in a new city. I’d spent WEEKS planning and researching (which I highly recommend) but overplanning had become my way of controlling situations beyond what was always necessary.
None of my careful reviewing of accident ratios, none of the anticipation, none of the professionally executed instruction prepared me for the fear I felt when I reached the edge of the plane.
Half a minute was a long enough hesitation for my instructor to give me the final choice of turning back or going for it. Recalling all the times in the last 12 years that I’d made plans and reached the edge only to change my mind and remain safely in the familiarity of my proverbial cabin, I somersaulted forward into the freefall of the unknown!
Since I was a kid, I’ve thrived on adventure and danger. I would climb to the top of the tree that towered over the Shafer kids’ rooftop, only descending to a less lethal level at the sound of my mom’s pleas(e!). I had no fear diving from the highest platform into the pool.
Fear tempered that spirit when a stranger forced his way into my apartment on a Sunday October morning and attacked #metoo. I was 19 years old.
In real time, I would have protested the suggestion that fear played an underlying role in many of my subsequent decisions. In real time, I would have insisted that it was only love and devotion that kept me in nearly back-to-back cohabitating relationships, long after I’d become unhappy or dissatisfied with the return on investment in them. In real time, I would have denied that I was not going after my dreams.
In the 15 years between skydiving adventures, I’ve been gradually and more intentionally living in a more fearless way–perhaps… no, definAtely, too gradual. As silver linings go, the perfect storm of events and emotions that defined my 2018 (I’m still unpacking and sorting it all out…) has brought me to the edge of my life where I can either jump and #livefiercly or die slowly but safely in my dysfunctional comfort zones.