Sunday, August 26, 2012
Yesterday I spent the day at the Drop Zone, making three skydives with my friends. When I came home and discussed the day with Smart Guy, we talked about how normal it is to have changes occur gradually, but sometimes those changes come all at once. This is happening right now with our move. Boxing up your possessions and considering whether you still need something that was once indispensable; finding items of value to pass on to others; discovering something you thought you lost—it's all part of moving. And that is after only five years of living here.
There are myriad ways to go through change in one's life, and I much prefer those that come with a conscious decision to alter a situation in order to make it better. Those are not the only ones I've experienced. As I gathered those pictures, I remembered the tumultuous years of my twenties, when I had two small children, lost my little Stephen overnight to spinal meningitis, the horror I lived through for the next several years, just trying to survive. That is long, long ago, and when I think of it, those memories are softened by the passage of time, but I could probably dredge up the awfulness of those years if I wanted. I don't.
My thirties were also years of change, but I finally found the place I wanted to live in: Boulder, Colorado, and I think of those years with pleasure, mostly. My son Chris grew from an adolescent into a man; I found a job I loved and kept for the next thirty years; I learned that I was a valued member of society. The contentment of those years became my reality and the pain of my twenties receded into the past.
During the decade of my forties, I gained more responsibility at work and simultaneously became an outdoors person. The friends I made at the time introduced me to backpacking and hiking in the beautiful Colorado Rockies. I became a Forest Service volunteer in my spare time, which continued for years, until I was 47 and discovered... skydiving. That was one of the sudden changes that I still cannot believe happened to me. It was a positive thing, and I was madly and completely in love with the experience. All my spare time was dedicated to it, and my friends became fellow skydivers. When someone is as enchanted with it as I was, your non-skydiving friends eventually fall away. They get tired of hearing about it.
The decade of my fifties began with meeting Smart Guy. While I was going through my books and bookcases, I found the binder that contains our original emails to one another. In those days (it was the early nineties), the Internet as we know it today was in its infancy. There were various newsgroups for like-minded people, and I had discovered one in the recreation category: rec.skydiving. It was a place where I met skydivers from around the world, and one of them was Smart Guy. We met in 1992 and married in 1994. I wrote about our freefall wedding here. By the time I turned sixty, I had been a skydiving instructor for six years and spent countless hours at the Drop Zone.
My job changed, too, and I began to travel all over the world with my former boss, traveling internationally to China (six times), Vietnam (twice), Bangkok (four), France, Switzerland, and many other foreign lands. I had to organize trips for dozens of scientists from all over the world and make it possible for them to get to the venue easily. When I think back to that period of time, I cannot believe how much I accomplished. It wore me out, literally. By the time I turned 65, I retired and moved to Washington state. Now that has been almost five years ago.
What I notice, thinking about all the changes I've been through, is how sometimes a change will occur without me noticing, and I'll simply realize that what had been an all-consuming passion (such as my job) is no longer at the center of my universe. Hiking and backpacking simply fell away when I began to skydive, although I looked forward to hiking with intense joy at the time. Today, I am again hiking with my Senior Trailblazers and have learned so much about the incredible Pacific Northwest. And I am still skydiving seasonally, starting in the springtime and ending when the rain starts up again.
Yesterday at the Drop Zone I chatted with a fellow skydiver who was packing his parachute alongside me, and he told me he's been teaching now for nine years, while holding down a regular job during the week. He does it for the pleasure of it (and getting his skydives paid for) and will be turning fifty soon. He wondered when he should stop teaching, and I told him I taught for twelve years, with more than a thousand students, beginning at about the age he is now. I said that the time will come when it's appropriate to let it go, but it's not today. It's a different kind of change when something is truncated, wrenched away from you because of life circumstances. When you can make the decision yourself, it's painless. Or almost painless. Realizing that life moves on whether we like it or not can be a lesson in itself.
I guess what is coming to me is the hope that whatever changes I still have ahead of me are ones I choose to make, or ones that have fallen away because they don't fit who I have become today. The hope is that when the day comes that I can no longer do something that gives me pleasure today, it will be because I've chosen to move on.