Thursday, March 23, 2006

Most people think it's complete nonsense to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, and before this past August I would have agreed. This summer I had the opportunity to go skydiving for the first time, and I discovered an experience and an international sub-culture like no other.

My first (and only) jump to date (yes, I plan to go again), was a tandem jump. A professional skydiver (a native of South Africa) strapped himself to my back and we jumped through the door together. He was responsible for pulling the rip cord and guiding us to the drop zone, so I could just enjoy the ride. I was immediately surprised by the lack of a sense of falling. Personally, I hate rollercoasters and other amusement park rides, but skydiving is completely different. Instead of that nauseous, motion-sick feeling in my stomach, I felt relaxed. It's like flying or floating because the wind pressure gives the sensation that you're hardly moving at all. It's loud--as if you're hanging your head out of a car door at 90 mph, but as soon as the parachute is released you experience the most peaceful quiet. I could see for miles and miles, and because we went in late afternoon, I could see the moon rising. I felt a closeness to God, and a simultaneous sense of my own power and powerlessness. I was shocked at how spiritual the experience was for me.

After three very difficult-physically demanding and emotionally charged-years in graduate school, a peace suddenly came over me that is difficult to describe. The residue of graduate school-the pain and frustration I had been holding onto-seemed as far away as the ground below. I could see those who had hurt me in my life for what they are, as tiny and insignificant as I am compared to the scale and enormity of the universe.
When we finally came to rest on the grassy field, I wanted to stay very still. I wanted to lie supine on the cool ground facing the sky where I had just been as I enjoyed the pungent aroma of the earth and grass all around me. I was unable to speak about the experience for several days afterward. Perhaps I'll share a poem I wrote about it later. For now, I still want to keep many of my feelings private. I'm only writing this now to encourage all of you to treat yourselves to this life-changing experience. Go if you have the chance. Skydiving is not just about falling, it's also about seeing.

When once you have tasted flight,
you will always walk the earth
with your eyes turned skyward;
For there you have been,
and there you will long to return.

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