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 28, 2015

The day my world changed

Lauren and her new purchase
Yesterday I went to the Drop Zone to meet Lauren and see if she might be interested in buying my skydiving gear. When she walked up to me and I took a look at her, I was pretty sure it would fit her perfectly. She's a new jumper and needed to buy some good gear, and when she put this on, my heart skipped a beat because I realized it had just found a new home. Lauren has never worn a rig that fits her perfectly—until now. It looks like it was made for her. Of course, she is the same height as me and that helps a lot, but still. Good thing she likes purple.

Although we agreed on a price, the next step is for the rigger to repack the reserve and inspect the main parachute and give her the thumbs up. I left it with her, because now it's hers, although no money has yet changed hands. I also gave her my old jumpsuits because they match so perfectly and fit her also and now I have no use for them. Although there is nothing keeping me from borrowing gear and making more skydives, I really feel like I'm done. It's been percolating for awhile, but now I won't even be tempted to go out there for old time's sake. It's time.

I looked in my logbook to see what the my final tally of jumps is: 4,239 skydives over 25 years of jumping. Lauren probably wasn't even born when I made that fateful tandem jump on September 3, 1990. (I didn't ask her how old she is, but she looks impossibly young to me.) I came home from the Drop Zone with all sorts of feelings roiling around inside. When I think of my career of skydiving behind me, I am actually pretty amazed at it all. I've jumped from helicopters and hot-air balloons, gone to 23,000 feet twice for some absurdly long skydives, and taught more than a thousand students how to skydive. I served on the US Parachute Association Board of Directors for four years and met my partner for life through the skydiving world. It truly altered the trajectory of my life when I made that first tandem so long ago.

Last night each time I woke from sleep, I remembered that it's over. It feels a little bit like a missing tooth right now, but I know that as time passes that gap will be filled with life's other activities. It's not like missing a limb, which it would have been a decade ago. There was a time when I couldn't imagine my life without skydiving in it, but then again, there was a time when I couldn't imagine being in my seventies. My life is good and full and satisfying, but it's also good to realize my limitations.

It's not only that my body is more fragile than it was a decade ago, my mental processes are also nowhere near as sharp as they were. I find myself making silly mistakes and forgetting things, which is not dangerous most of the time, but when you're falling towards the ground at 120 miles an hour, there's no time for confusion. I worried about my ability to deal with a malfunction and reacting properly within the few seconds of decision time.

I remember the time when I opened my parachute and realized that it was spinning instead of gently floating above my head. Reaching for my brakes, I realized that I was already going too fast and needed to act quickly. When I reached for my emergency handles, they were not where they were supposed to be, since my harness had distorted from the forces I was experiencing. I frantically searched for the two handles, found them and pulled them in the correct order, releasing the bad parachute and deploying my reserve. I was spinning so hard that one of the disconnected risers smacked me under my chin and gave me a huge bruise. I never felt it, I was so filled with adrenaline. My reserve parachute was a beautiful sight to behold, and I landed it easily. By the time I had returned to the packing area, my main parachute and freebag had been retrieved, and I was able to get my stuff put back together before the end of the day. Although I'm not sure, I think I made another jump before the sun went down.

Just writing about that experience gives me a jolt of adrenaline, even after all these years, which must have been at least a decade ago. I've got all my logbooks and could look it up, searching through all those memories, and I might do that one of these days, but not today. Now it's time to start looking ahead, looking at what might be the next step in my journey. I can rest assured that I've made a good decision; I know I have just by the way I feel: a little pensive but not sad.

Smart Guy went with me to the Drop Zone yesterday, so he drove back home after the deed was done. In the passenger seat, I logged onto Facebook on my iPhone and posted a picture of Lauren in her new gear and wrote that it was a bittersweet farewell. During the long drive back, I kept checking my phone for the comments people made: "We'll always remember those Eloy Christmas boogie years and the many jumps with you" (from the UK). "It served you well. Seems like yesterday we met at Quincy" (East Coast). "You can always buy more gear" (West Coast). And many others, from skydivers and non-skydivers around the world. All that happened while I was sitting in my car traveling from one place to another, which is pretty darned amazing when you think about it. I think of the incredible ability we have to stay connected with dear friends instantaneously and marvel at the world we live in.

And speaking of the world we live in, wasn't it an astounding week in the US? Just like that, gay marriage has become legal in the entire country. I think of my departed friend Robert, who died of AIDS, who would have never believed it but would have been overjoyed. Times are changing, and I'm sorry for those who are unhappy over this ruling, because the world has moved on. I'm glad I got to see this and can hardly believe it myself.

On that note, I realize that it's that time again: my post is done, my tea gone, and my partner gently snoring next to me. The relentless sunshine and heat continues in my part of the world, but we'll get through it, with a little help from our friends. And air conditioning. Be well, my dear dear friends and we'll meet here again next Sunday morning.


Far Side of Fifty said...

Lauren looks thrilled to get your gear. Like you said you can borrow gear if you feel the need to jump again. You have slowly been moving toward this time for many months, you should feel like you graduated! Onward and forward to better things:)

Anonymous said...

I am glad you found a suitable buyer, someone who matches you in size. Good luck to her.

John's Island said...

After reading Eye on the Edge today I have the feeling that we will just do better if we can learn to embrace change and move forward. It’s easier said than done. Your mention of the time you jumped and your main chute didn’t open … what a close call indeed. But what, if any, lesson was to be learned from that? You didn’t stop jumping at that time. It reminds me of another recent event: Last week I watched, from my window looking out over Pier 91, the Holland America Westerdam depart on its way to Alaska for a 7 day cruise. I recall putting the binoculars on the ship and seeing all the happy travelers out on the decks as they began their journey. When the ship was in Ketchikan 8 of those cruisers went on a side trip excursion, aboard a float plane, to see the area around Misty Fjords. They all perished, along with their pilot, when the plane crashed in. Yesterday it was sad to see the Westerdam return to port without those 8 passengers. What, if any, lesson is to be learned from that episode? Your weekly blog always puts me into a reflective mode and I enjoy that! :-) Wishing you a fine week ahead.

Glenda Beall said...

I love your attitude about this time of ending something that has been such a part of your life for so long. That is healthy - letting go of the past and looking toward the future. I have to tell myself that peace is accepting things as they are and not as I want them to be. I want to be younger and stronger and able to ride horses and motorcycles again, but I am learning to accept that cannot be now.
Your post is inspiring and I thank you. Also, I agree that it is time to give all Americans the right to love and live as they want and need to live. I have gay friends and I know this means so much to them.

Rhapsody Phoenix said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rhapsody Phoenix said...

Wow, can i say again wow 4,239 skydives over 25 years of jumping? Wow, that is not even a possibility for me because to be frank, am just not going there, I am not that brave. I can't even look down for long from the 7th floor of my building.

Life does have a way of making one reassess things (priorities, values, worth etc), that you have the courage to face it and be accountable is to be commended, many are not able to do that and become bitter and sullen.

Sounds like you know how to enjoy life, that's a good thing, it means you have many adventurers ahead.

Stay blessed
thanks for sharing.

Elephant's Child said...

Another thoughtful, beautiful post.
Yes, the world changed (as it often does) but you were ready for the change and have sooooo much more to celebrate than to regret.
And I am thrilled (and a little jealous) that your country has allowed gay marriage. It is time. It is past time. Hopefully we too will come to the party. Soon.

Gwen said...

Kudos to you for knowing when the time was right, and for finding such a perfect recipient. :)

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

You are a remarkable writer. My adrenal was up the moment you mentioned spinning parachute. What is so contrasting to that rush is your balm farewell to an activity that changed your direction in life.
Yes it's also true that we ought to love the any changes to present has to offer us.Instant messaging in a horsepower driven vehicle. And you mention planes and helicopters too. It has indeed made the world very different. Your focus on the positive is smart.
Thank you for sharing this transition with us. It is a phase of life we walk together, aging gracefully.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Sorry for my typos. My vision is now in a rough place but I'm not ready to quit blogging and commenting.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

I'm glad you found such a lovely way to make the transition. Your gear will carry on and a young lady will always think of you as she prepares to jump.

Red said...

I'm always amazed on these Sunday posts how much reflection you do on things in your life. Reflection is good and does many different things for us. In this case it's bringing a satisfactory end to one of your favorite activities. I like the way you reach out to those who oppose gay marriage. It's a strong position to take.

The Furry Gnome said...

Glad you were able to reach this decision so comfortably when the time came. Congratulations on those 25 years! And I'm glad to know that someone else is noticing their mental processes are not quite so sharp as they once were; maybe I'm not lost yet.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

You're an amazing Sagittarian! Onward...

Rita said...

You've been building up to this for over a year. Feels like the right time and she looks very happy with the gear.
Life is just delicious...knees in the breeze or feet on the ground. Of course, your feet still end up on the sides of mountains. ;)

Arkansas Patti said...

Lauren could be a younger you and I hope she gets the same pleasure out of the gear you obviously have. That you took another dive after that first one says so much about you and your fearlessness.
You gave skydiving more than a great ride. You owned it for many years. Enjoy the memories and be proud.

Tabor said...

You are one of those people who handle changes very well. Not all of us can roll with the movement of our lives. But you now have a life full of memories to fill each day. I just know you will continue to do new and interesting stuff.

Midlife Roadtripper said...

4239 sky dives? I can't even imagine. Skydiving is something I've never wanted to do. Not because I was afraid, rather because I felt if I did it, nothing would ever excite me again.

This was a wonderful post. Such richness to it as you address your life now. You continue to amaze me.

Blogoratti said...

Really thoughtful and interesting thoughts indeed.

Sally Wessely said...

This day was a milestone for you in so many ways. I love the way you recounted it for all of us. You are a treasure. Your voice of reason on every issue you ever address always comes through. I think that is what I most admire about you. You had a logical reason to stop doing what you love. You made the decision. It was not made for you. Once the decision was made, you moved on in a graceful, instructive, and reflective way to the next adventure waiting for you.