Skydive

Sitting beside the open door of a small airplane, 14,000 feet in the air, I closed my eyes, dreading what I was about to do.

My sixtieth year had seemed the perfect time to finally venture from my chrysalis, the cocoon that had sheltered me the bulk of my life. I had already taken steps towards freedom, riding motorcycles and in a hot-air balloon. Other things, like divorce and cancer, had also chipped away at my shell; but this adventure—skydiving—was the scariest by far.

I had no idea why I had chosen to do it, though I tried to envision myself as a butterfly, stretching its wings to fly, doing what it was born to do.

Dan, my skydive instructor, assured me that jumping out of an airplane was safer than driving home in my car. I knew he was right and I was confident he would take care of me.

But I was so scared, I was about to throw up.

I thought that through years of grappling with life, I had clawed a large enough opening to emerge and find freedom; but once that plane started down the runway, any hope of enjoyment vanished.

I started remembering how much I dislike air travel.

All the more reason to jump out of the airplane, right?

I closed my eyes and leaned my face against the inner wall of the plane.

Oh, God.

Someone touched my shoulder. Sarah, the intuitive friend jumping with me, was reaching out her calming hand. I wondered if my son, Chris, also on the plane to jump, was picking up on my fear as well. But he’s grown now; Mom doesn’t have to be the strong one any more.

Before I knew it, Dan and I were out the open door and falling through the air so fast I couldn’t breathe. I looked briefly at the ground far below and shut my eyes again.

Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God.

Someone grabbed my wrist and my eyes fluttered open to see, dancing in the air in front of me, an ancient Chinese warrior, in a funny helmet with a topknot. No, that can’t be right. I shut my eyes and opened them again, to realize it was only Nick, another skydiver, with a camera on his head. He was filming my jump and seemed to want me to play hand games with him.

Not going to happen. I kept a death grip on my harness straps, too terrified to spread my wings.

What happened to my lovely image of flying free?

Perhaps the skydive itself was actually my last struggle to claw out an opening from the cocoon rather than my first flight in freedom.

As a child, I feared falling from a great height with nothing to catch me or to cushion my fall. Countless nights, I woke up in a panic, a scream frozen in my throat, grabbing desperately at the sheets to save myself. Thankful that I awoke before hitting the ground.

My friends said that if you hit bottom before waking up, it would kill you.

Which probably explains why the nightmares so terrified me.

I’m only now remembering them, a month after I leapt from that open door. At some point before my teen years, I stopped having the nightmares. I don’t know why they stopped. Maybe I was simply learning to trust God.

So was I inadvertently testing my faith through this thing I was doing?

It may be an exercise in futility, trying to find meaning in a fifteen-minute experience, but I believe God has a purpose for every path I walk. Or fly.

After the rough moments when the parachute opened, I once again closed my eyes and let my mind drift to another place. I think I intentionally tried to direct my thoughts elsewhere in an effort to calm my fears.

I was aware of the sun on my face and of Dan suggesting that I swallow to pop my ears, and later, to move my legs forward when we were ready to land. I was aware that he said we were going to take it slow and easy. (He was a great guy, to pick up on how scared I was!) But mostly, I was envisioning my feet on Sharp Top, my favorite peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hiking. Just hiking. The same calming place that came to mind when I was giving birth to my two children. During childbirth, though, I pictured Sharp Top from a distance. This time, it took the image of my feet steadfastly walking up a trail to give me any relief.

We slid onto the ground on our butts, an easy landing. But I was unable to move after we came to a stop. Wiped out. Completely exhausted from emotional stress.

I’m thankful my patient instructor gave me a few minutes to decompress, when I’m sure he needed to get moving to prepare for his next jump.

My fellow skydivers whooped and laughed, celebrating their accomplishments.

I didn’t.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to give my experience a big thumbs-up.

Just. Not. Yet.

4 Comments

  1. Rebekah
    Aug 7, 2014

    I’m still so proud of you Karen! Even though you didn’t enjoy it, you still overcame a fear, and you tried something new. I remember how terrible I felt for you after seeing you land, but it still takes a brave person to go through with it.

    • Karen Curran
      Aug 7, 2014

      Thanks, Rebekah! I’m impressed that you went back to do it a second time! Talk about brave!!!

  2. Susie Dunham
    Aug 15, 2014

    Bravo Brave One. I’d never even think about doing that.

    • Karen Curran
      Aug 16, 2014

      Never say never, Susie:)

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