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, October 13, 2013

Learning hard lessons

The three JOS minorities: DJan, Bob, Frankie
Sitting in the hotel room in Elsinore, after two days of skydiving with my peers, other JOS (Jumpers Over Seventy). There are 21 of us trying to make a record by making a formation together of the largest number of skydivers over seventy. Yesterday we used two separate aircraft to jump from so that we wouldn't need to spend so much time diving toward the formation. We are definitely old, after all.

And that has been the hard lesson to learn for so many of us. All of us, every one of us, has been on numerous formations this size or much larger, but they were not all comprised of the elder crowd. We haven't been closer than getting 14 people connected, and the record won't count unless every single one of us is in the formation, and in the correct spot. Today is our last day to attempt the feat, and I am not optimistic.

That doesn't mean it hasn't been fun and instructive. I didn't think I would be skydiving any more after I turned seventy, and here I am with 21 other peers who are still going strong. And four of our number are over eighty. The oldest one, Bud LaPointe, is 87. He is amazing and very inspiring to see. He is limping, along with all three of the people in the picture. I tweaked my knee on the first day while trying to run out a landing in low winds. Bob stepped off a ladder (a non-skydiving injury) and hurt his foot. Frankie had a bad landing yesterday and landed very hard on her knee. But we kept going, because the injuries can be worked around. This means less than perfect landings. I favored my knee all day long yesterday and today it feels much, much better. I am pretty sure it won't interfere today. Frankie found another jumper who had a knee brace and she wore it all day and is better. Bob is limping badly, but he's just landing on his butt with his foot out in front of him. It's working, because we don't want to let our friends down, we keep going, and the mood of all the skydivers is very upbeat, although the attempt to complete will probably not be successful.

Many of us are filled with hardware. The knee I tweaked has an ACL replacement, so there are two screws in there permanently. One guy has two knee replacements, a hip replacement, and hardware in his back. He's 82. He just doesn't want to stop skydiving, and he isn't as good as he used to be and won't admit it. I've observed him not doing well in freefall,  sometimes blaming other people instead of himself. I suspect he knows inside that it's his own errors, but since he was so good for so long, he cannot bring himself to realize that there is no replacement for the skill he's lost. What needs to happen in formation skydiving is each of us needs to approach the base formation easily and softly, not disturbing it when we fly into our place in the skydive. The first jump yesterday, he had so much momentum as he approached that all six of the base formation were unable to maintain their grips. And that was the end of the skydive, although we still had plenty of time left to build the formation, it was destroyed right in front of our eyes.

But we went up again and tried again, and yet again. By the end of the day, we were getting a wee bit discouraged, but I think what will happen today is we will keep trying for the next four skydives and then sit around afterwards and celebrate anyway. Tomorrow I will hopefully return home to Bellingham, if the plane I am flying to Portland in is on time. Whatever happens, we will deal with it, we always do. One thing we have learned is that life is not always predictable.

We need to be at the Drop Zone bright and early, at 8:00am, and I need to get breakfast and take a quick shower first. Frankie is in the bathroom first, doing all that herself right now, and I need to get this finished before it's my turn. That means this particular Eye on the Edge post will be a bit shorter and not as contemplative as usual.

I do need to say that the hardest lesson I am learning here in Elsinore is to give up any expectations I might have had for success in this endeavor. It's not the reason for this gathering, but instead it's an opportunity to be inspired by each other. And to watch those I've admired for so many decades being humbled by time's inevitable ravages on our bodies and minds. But not on our spirits: they are stronger and more beautiful than ever. I am so proud to be a part of this group.

Not to mention I've already made eight skydives in two days and will probably make four or five more again today before it's all over. I hope we all stay safe and with a minimum of injuries before we head home. Next Sunday I will be back in my old groove, with my partner next to me as I write. It's 5:55am as I finish this. Until next week, stay well and happy. I insist.


June said...

"I do need to say that the hardest lesson I am learning here in Elsinore is to give up any expectations I might have had for success in this endeavor."

Ah. Giving up "expectations." So hard to do, but such a relief once accomplished!

Anonymous said...

I hope we all stay well and happy. Good luck and best wishes, DJan. Aloha from Hawaii.

Rian said...

DJan, it's 8:57 as I read this and I'm thinking that you are all already at the drop zone. Maybe there's no way that you will make a formation of 21 (although anythings possible, yes?), but... *perhaps* you will make one of more than 14 today. Whatever happens, I hope you have a wonderful day... and no injuries.

Linda Reeder said...

It's good to hear from you. We are all your fans and eagerly await news of any success. But mostly we like hearing what's going on in your head.
I guess old age is all about adjusting expectations, but certainly not giving up! I's 7:25 PDT. You'll be at the drop zone soon. It's barely light here, but we're headed for a sunny day once the collecting fog clears.
Wishing you all clear skies and clear eyes. Be careful out there.

Linda Myers said...

Another great adventure, whether your actual goal is achieved or not.

Safe travels home.

Sandi said...

Hi DJan!

Sheesh! Reading this makes me exhausted! I have always admired your adventurous spirit, and can't imagine jumping out of an airplane on purpose!
I appreciated the theme of "adjusting expectations" throughout this post. It's a pretty constant requirement these days.
Happy and safe jumping to you and your friends. I'll be seeing you soon!

Deb Shucka said...

Wishing you success today, and that you're able to see success if it looks different than you thought. Your posts are deeply reflective and insightful, even when you're not trying, or don't think you have time. :-) I can hardly wait to hear your stories in person.

Gigi said...

Well, if you insist then it will be done! ;-)

Have fun today and I hope you set that record!

Mel said...

I'm hoping your remaining jumps went well. I am in awe, as usual.

Whether or not you set any records, you and your friends are still amazing and inspiring.

Arkansas Patti said...

Hope you had the perfect jump today and made your formation. If not, then hope it was still a fun time.
You certainly are a grand looking bunch of over 70's. No one would guess your age if you didn't tell them. That you all persist through pain and bionic parts is so impressive. You all do inspire.

Jackie said...

Loved reading this...hoping that you had a good day today, jumping.
Go bionic jumpers! You all amaze me.
I look forward to your next post.
Fingers crossed....and always a smile for you, my friend.

Lorna said...

I am so proud of you!

Red said...

I guess it's only natural to feel some disappointment for not achieving the objective, but you've got to be pretty happy with what you've done. Best of luck tomorrow and I hope you make it.

Shelly said...

I learned so much about skydiving from this post. You make it sound amazingly wonderful...but I don't know that I could do it with my huge fear of heights.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Oh I cannot wait to hear how today went. I hope you were wrong and it all goes smoothly. It sounds like maybe too many bosses and not enough workers. I am certain you did your best:)

amanda said...

Beautifully unbreakable spirit - something for us all to strive for. I look forward to the next report!

CiCi said...

Whether you break a record or not, your group success is awesome. You all deserve a huge round of applause.

The Broad said...

I love the photo -- you look absolutely fabulous! As for sky-diving -- at any age it would terrify me, so I am totally awe-struck by you and all your colleagues. Good luck and safe landings!

Sally Wessely said...

I hope it all went well and you met your goals. This is an amazing lesson in perseverance and never giving up. I can't believe you. You are simply amazing. What a group!

Dee said...

Dear DJan, by now--it's Tuesday morning--you are probably home. I'm wondering if all of you in the JOS group were able to come together in formation on Sunday. That would have been--I'm thinking--quite a feat even when you all were younger.

Now, at least from my viewpoint, the feat is having the enthusiasm and courage and will to "keep on truckin'" as the expression goes. It helps that jumping from the airplane and flying downward in formation is a joy for all of you. You remain an inspiration in my life. Peace.

Friko said...

And you had better stay safe. This is beginning to sound a little pressured.

I know you are a sensible lady, I hope everybody else is sensible too.

Good luck.

Cynthia said...

"being humbled by time's inevitable ravages on our bodies and minds. But not on our spirits: they are stronger and more beautiful than ever."

I copied this into my inspiration notebook. It's beautiful, DJan! I need to get out and abut with more people my own age and be inspired by them instead of always trying to keep up with younger friends. I'm glad you had such a good time, and thank you so much for writing about it.

Stella Jones said...

Good luck but don't push too hard!

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

I come here and read this after the jumps have happened but can still appreciate what your mind went through as you were in preparation.
What a wonderful experience regardless of the record outcome!