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, June 23, 2013

Decades behind but still looking ahead

Sun breaking through the mist
"You can't have a hundred jumps forever," Smart Guy once reminded me, as we discussed the changing nature of my skydiving experience. It was long ago, and I was lamenting the loss of that initial feeling of excitement, the knife-edge awareness that colored my days and weeks and months when I first took up the activity. When I met him in late 1992, I had already been jumping for almost two years, and it permeated my entire existence. I lived for the weekends when I could go to the Drop Zone and hurl myself out of an airplane. My old non-skydiving friends began to stop calling me, as they tired of hearing about it. New friends were fellow jumpers. I met Smart Guy on the internet through skydiving and wrote about it here.

That was more than two decades ago. It simply amazes me to realize that I am seventy and still skydiving. I was 47 when I made my first jump, and now here I am at seventy and still at it. The intensity and excitement has faded to a gentle appreciation of a familiar activity, and even that amazes me. How can jumping out of an airplane begin to feel that ordinary?

I suppose that jet fighters who have thousands of flying hours must begin to have that same sense of familiarity, a routine sortie into danger. But for those who don't know what skydiving is all about, that it's much more than the sense of falling into the air from a great height with no control, it's very scary. But you see, I know better. I know that I have two parachutes on my back, and that once I reach terminal velocity (after 9 seconds), I can fly! Usually we skydivers play together in the air for close to a minute before we have to separate in order to have clear air in which to deploy our parachutes. If for some reason the main parachute fails, we have a backup. I've used my reserve only twice (knock wood) in more than 4,000 skydives, so it doesn't happen all that often.

But that isn't what I wanted to talk about this morning. Yesterday I met a young skydiver, Chris, who has 35 jumps and is still learning to pack a parachute. I remember how confusing it was myself, and he stood there uncertainly and was asking other people to check his work. It's terrifying to go through the process of learning, because everything seems very complicated. But it's not, really. There are only a few techniques that require attention to detail, and now I don't even think twice about it. I was able to impart some of my techniques to him, but he seemed dubious that it could actually be that simple. As he began the last part, stuffing the parachute into the deployment bag, it began to get away from him. In the midst of packing my own parachute, I turned around to see him giving up, thinking that he would need to start all over again, from what looked to him like a real mess. "No, no! Don't give up now; you've almost got it in the bag!" I said.

I went over to him and showed him that it was possible to wrestle it into the bag from that point, even if it seemed like a lost cause. I knew that the important aspects of packing had been followed, and that the recalcitrant nylon was the only part that wasn't under control. All the lines were not being disturbed. So he continued, with my help, and then went out to jump it. I watched him busy practicing his reserve procedures, just in case.

Well, I was packing up from yet another jump when here comes young Chris, a grin as wide as the sky on his face. He said, "It was perfect! I pulled and looked up, it opened on heading and soft, just... perfect!" I was happy, too, as I remembered being afraid to jump my own early pack jobs. I had to learn what was important and what was not, just as he is learning. He was very grateful and thanked me for my help. He didn't realize that it made me feel really good to boot. A young skydiver who is just like I was, long ago, although I was already middle-aged when I began. Chris was probably born somewhere around the time I started.

As I was walking through the Drop Zone yesterday, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a window and thought in passing that I sure don't look like most of the other skydivers. I'm old and wrinkled with white hair, but that is another aspect of this sport that most people don't realize: if I jump a large forgiving parachute and take care of my body with exercise and diet, there's nothing to stop me from enjoying a pastime that gives me such pleasure. Of course, all that could come to a screeching halt with an injury, but that is true in every aspect of my life. None of us live lives that are free of that possibility. Who would even want to?

So I'll take my chances and make sure I do everything I can to increase the odds of maybe skydiving for another few years. Maybe. There's an old saying I've heard many times: "You don't quit skydiving because you get old, you get old because you quit skydiving." These old bones sure had fun yesterday.

I wish, sincerely wish, that you have something in your life that gives you pleasure, and that you follow it today to wherever it takes you. After all, today is all we really have, isn't it?


Teresa Evangeline said...

I am continually amazed at your willingness to meet life with arms wide open. Beautiful.

Anonymous said...

The day you get bored with doing something is the day you should quit doing it. So far, I love to study and dance the hula, because it combines beautiful Hawaiian music with graceful exercise. Kudos to both of us, DJan.

Linda Myers said...

I seem to remember a year ago or so when you were thinking about ending your skydiving times when you turned 70. This year I'm not hearing anything like that. Fabulous!

Sally Wessely said...

You go girl.

wendyytb said...

Djan...when I grow up. I want to be just like you!

amanda said...

Great Sunday read, DJan.
Here's to TODAY!!

Jackie said...

You are inspirational to all who know you, Jan.
Age is relative...It has nothing to do with white hair, wrinkles, or lack thereof. You are ageless....and I wish you only the best...happiness to you and those you love... always.
P.S. I went to the link you shared. I loved reading about you and your hubby falling in love and getting married.
Blessings to you both.

Far Side of Fifty said...

That young fellow Chris doesn't know how lucky he was to meet and learn from you!

So glad you had a good time at the DZ:)

Arkansas Patti said...

I hadn't thought about how scary it would be to pack your own chute in the beginning. Slip ups could be catastrophic though trusting someone else to do it for you would be equally scary. That must be a big hurdle to get over.
Nice work with that newbie.

Red said...

See it's what I told you in your other post..it's what skydiving does to your head that's important.
Skydiving is something I would have done in a heartbeat if I had the chance. Now, too many problems with balance.

Linda Reeder said...

"something in your life that gives you pleasure" and that you "follow it today".
I did. I really wanted to go to Fremont this morning to the Sunday Market, expanded this Solstice Weekend into the Fremont Street Fair. We went one year to the Fremont Solstice parade, which is very funky, but we were busy doing other things yesterday, so we didn't make it to the parade. that is usually the case.
This morning it was raining, and we almost cancelled our plans, but decided sort of last minute to go after all. We had two fun hours of looking and shopping and discovering crafts of many kinds, and talking to craftsmen and vendors.We had our fill, left before the crowds grew, and were back home for lunch. yesterday was a great day, too, as you can see from my last post. We topped it off with an eve ning walk as the sun set gloriously and the super moon rose.
Yes, we all must follow our passions, however great or simple they are.

Rita said...

I have a whole list of things I dearly love that give me pleasure. They just aren't dangerous. ;)
So glad you got out and up last weekend. Seeing that young fellow's joy must have been a delight in itself. :)

Lorna said...

Your brilliant spirit is enviable. I wish that I had something that takes the breath away like you do.

Gigi said...

As always, you continue to be a source of inspiration and joy to me and everyone you cross paths with. Young Chris will think of you every time he packs his parachute now.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Beautiful! You should write a memoir about your skydiving stuff, DJan. I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

O-town Ramblings said...

You have no idea how much your active life doing things that bring you pleasure inspires me. With 3 decades between our ages you're constantly showing me that age is definitely a state of mind. Thanks for the continual inspiration.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, the wonder of you is that you continue as the years pass to change and grow and learn. That you are so open to possibilities for growth in the human spirit. I so admire and respect that in you. Peace.

Friko said...

It’s being passionate about something that keeps us young. Once the zest for life has gone, we become old.

You are a long way off.

Stella Jones said...

You push yourself hard D-Jan and you enjoy your achievements. I set my sights much lower. I still have mountains to climb. I think we need to achieve, no matter how old we are.