I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Renewal and rebirth

Thank you, Jonathan
Yesterday, I asked a friend (Jonathan) to take some pictures of me as I made my first jump of 2012. This is the result: that's me just microseconds from touchdown after that first skydive. It was a beautiful day, and my dear friends I've made at the Snohomish Drop Zone and I played in the sky. That doesn't mean I wasn't petrified; it had been five months since my last leap out of an airplane, and I felt butterflies all morning long, checked my gear obsessively, and knew that I had felt this way before and that it would pass. As the plane rose into the air, circling over our landing area and we prepared to exit, my focus was on performing and there was no room for fright. I had to leave my fear behind so I could do it. Sometimes you have to do the things you think you cannot do.

When I left the airplane and felt the incredible sensation of being in freefall, I was focused on my five friends in freefall with me, on the formation they were making and where I was supposed to be. Being a little rusty, it took me longer than usual to fly into my spot. Then we broke our grips and formed another pretty pattern in the sky. It worked just as we planned, and when it came time to separate, we tracked apart (which looks a bit like a flower opening, if you are watching from the ground). This gives the skydiver clear air in which to open a parachute, bringing the skydive to an end. I threw out my pilot chute to catch the air, which opened that beautiful canopy over my head.

At that point, I looked up to see everything was perfect, and my canopy was flying flawlessly in the bright blue sky. I grabbed the toggles and set my course back to the place where we had boarded the plane twenty minutes earlier. I took the time to look out at Puget Sound and at the snowcapped mountains, Rainier to the south and Baker to the north. What beauty! Hanging under the canopy and seeing the gorgeous place where I live, experiencing the incredible gift of skydiving, I thanked God for my life and all that I have been given. My landing was also perfect, just a tiptoe down onto the ground. Jonathan caught the moment when body and shadow connect once again.

Last year on Easter Sunday I wrote about my experience of Holy Week when I would go on an annual retreat at a nearby Benedictine convent. One of the really wonderful things about keeping a blog or a journal is the opportunity to go back and see where you were a year, two years, a decade ago. Because of yesterday's activities, skydiving and its place in my life is much on my mind, as well as the significance of all that angst and fear that I went through. Every skydiver will tell you that the nerves you feel after a layoff, even of a week's time, is normal. The first skydive of every day is a bit more anxiety producing than one following right after. Why is that?

My thought is that skydiving is not a normal everyday activity. If I change my focus to other pursuits, it begins to recede into the background and becomes a memory, something I do but not right then, not right now. My feet are on the ground and gravity connects me to the earth. Many, if not most, of my readers will never experience freefall. I have tried before to describe it, but it's not something that you can explain. Since you are able to "fly" in a vertical perspective, using the air as a cushion and deflecting it, you have a minute-long sensation of flying your body. But then you need to stop doing it before you lose track of the fact that you are actually plummeting towards the ground!

Some fear is healthy and keeps us alive. But it's not helpful to be paralyzed by fear, it's important to move through it, because it can keep you from experiencing life fully. After all, life is finite; everything that is born will die. We all know this. Some of us believe that this life is not all there is, but I won't know whether I'm right until I wake up after having taken my last breath. There is no doubt, however, that one day I will indeed take that last breath. On this day of renewal and rebirth, Easter, I am filled with optimism and hope that one day I will be reunited with my loved ones who have passed through the veil. There are many; it will be quite a reunion.

Sometimes they visit me in dreams that feel as solid as this waking moment. Their spirits just aren't bound to gravity any more, and in my dreams I often fly from one place to another. I am smiling as I remember one dream where I flapped my arms and took right off, just like a bird. Since none of us knows for sure if the spirit world is around us or not, I choose to believe that they are with me: my children, my parents, my beloved friends, and I am the one who has yet to join them.

Until then, I hope to spend my remaining days living life with passion and joy. Last week's post was pretty morose, I feel, but this week I am filled with infinite possibilities. The passage of time from one week, one year, one decade to the next, leaves me right where I started: here and now. The present moment is really all that we have. Someone said that the past is history, the future is mystery, and today is a gift. It's really true, isn't it?


Keicha said...

So true. Life is a gift. Your post is the first one I read today, and I'm grateful for that. It was exactly what I needed to read on what is a difficult, sad day for me. Reading your posts always inspires me that I'll be able to work through my grief, hopefully in a way as graceful and strong as you have. Thank you.

Teresa Evangeline said...

Absolutely beautiful, DJan. Thank you so much for this post.

Mel said...

A beautiful, inspiring post. You are an amazing human being, brave and full of spirit. I can barely imagine the thrill and beauty you experience when you sky dive.

We used to race sailboats, and I would have moments of grace like that, on the downwind leg, with the spinnaker full like a hot air balloon, the boat soaring through the water. I would look up into the colors of the sail and the blue sky and feel grateful that I was given the glorious gift of those moments. I hadn't thought of that feeling in years, so thanks for reminding me.

Thank you for this post, and for sharing your thoughts with us. I've read four blogs this morning and each one has filled me with wonder, awe, respect and love. What a gift.

Sandi said...

Happy renewal, DJan! I'm so glad I decided to open up my laptop and check out your post first this morning. I am one who will not experience sky diving, but I can appreciate the joy and wonder that moves you and others to do so. I can barely force myself to get on a plane and trust myself to another's control, so I can't imagine jumping from a plane and trusting a parachute to open!!
I appreciate the optimism in your words, "I hope to spend my remaining days living life with passion and joy." What a gift, as you said at the end, today is for us. If we live each day with "passion and joy", we make the most of the gift each day is, and in turn, bless everyone who comes in contact with us. Thank you for this reminder to make the most of the gift of living in this beautiful world.

Anonymous said...

Yes, today is a present. Lol. Well put.

Rubye Jack said...

That's what it's all about isn't it? Living life with passion and joy. For me, I've usually got the passion but the joy is harder to find. We just keep on with it all day by day and one day joy is there.
This is a really beautiful post DJan.

Red said...

That's quite a metaphor where you fly though the air in free fall and then compare it to flying into the afterlife and meeting old friends.
Your description of your first drop of the season was very realistic. it was just like being there.

Grandmother said...

Here and now is a gift- It's a blessing when the gratitude bubbles up and we feel/ recognize/ acknowledge it. Enjoy your day!

Linda Myers said...

Easter is rebirth and renewal in my mind. And your first jump, where you experience some fear and yet move past it to beauty, is what it's about.

I have no idea what happens after we die, but I've had enough experience with loved ones afterwards to know it's something. That's enough for me for now.

Judy said...

I really enjoyed your post today. Hope you are right about the great unknown. I know I'd sure like to see my parents and grandparents again!

Far Side of Fifty said...

I will fly in my dreams..where I can feel the wind in my hair and I am not afraid!
Wonderful post today..full of hope..as it should be on Easter Morning:)

Linda Reeder said...

Today was truly a gift. I'll have to be sure to consider tomorrow one too, even though it is 'just a day'.
You are a gift too, dear DJan.

Gigi said...

Very true that I am one of those that will never (willingly) experience a freefall!

I love the line "Sometimes you have to do the things you think you cannot do." Because this applies to so much more in life than just skydiving.

Anonymous said...

You also had a lot to say. Sure sign of nerves. I am happy for you that you like to live along the edges. So many people are afraid of their dreams.

SaucyKod said...

Girl, you can really put the words out there. I love this post - there is so much wisdom and love and strength in it. Thank you for touching my day in my heart.
p.s. I love the landing :)

Retired English Teacher said...

You always inspire and cause me to reflect on life. Thank you for the words you have written today, and every other Sunday. I am convinced that the only way we can continue each day with any kind of success is to do so with by consciously experiencing renewal and rebirth.

Jackie said...

I love your writing. I can't say that enough. The phrase "body and shadow connect"...beautifully penned.
I am in awe of skydivers. My hubby wants to parachute and so does my son. (My son is 35.) He didn't inherit that wish from his Mama! :))) I love the fact that you have expressed the feelings of freefalling so beautifully. It is less scary to me as I read your words.
As you are experiencing renewal, know that I'm so happy for you, Jan.
I look forward to seeing my loved ones who have passed away and are in Heaven. That will be a glorious day to me...to be reunited with them. I know that my Redeemer lives and I look forward to seeing Him face to face one day. While I am here on Earth, I glory in the creation He made and am thankful for meeting and making friends such as yourself.
Have a beautiful week.

wendyytb said...

DJan... I always read your blog. I don't always comment, as sometimes, you leave me speechless. Thank you!

CiCi said...

I like the way you walk through fear. Acknowledging that there is fear, dealing with the feelings and moving forward. Not being paralyzed. Sometimes I think that hanging on to fear is a comfortable place, even if it is not a healthy place to be. Taking the first step to move out of the fearful place is easier for some people. I know some people who are still hiding away in a fear of living. You definitely are not. You are a great example to people dealing with fear of many things.

Heidrun Khokhar said...

Brilliant post and landing! Cheer to you.