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, 2019

Remembering my skydiving years

Me coming in for a landing
Several events have lately reminded me of my skydiving career. Although it's long gone, and it's been four years since I've even made a skydive, it will always be a part of me and of my history. I asked a young man (I've forgotten his name) to take some pictures of me coming in for a landing at Snohomish, the last place I jumped regularly, and he captured this one, which I very much cherish. That was my last canopy, a gentle giant that allowed me to have soft landings and was a little bigger than the smallest ones I ever owned.

When you first start skydiving, your first gear, and especially the main canopy, is quite large, allowing for mistakes without serious consequences, and as you gain skill and proficiency under canopy, you "downsize" until you have a responsive but also more dangerous one. Since I was already older when I began, I wasn't interested in getting too small, but other people I knew certainly did. Some of my dearest friends died from making a critical error when coming in to land.

Although I will always be incredibly grateful for those twenty-five years I spent as a skydiver and instructor, I don't miss them very much any more. These days are spent either outdoors in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, or inside enjoying shelter from the weather and reading a good book or watching a movie. However, the other day while having lunch, I watched a raptor above me, looping and lazily catching updrafts with wings spread wide. It reminded me of how much I loved being up there doing the same thing with my beautiful canopy. Sometimes I would catch an updraft and suddenly would be higher in the sky again, no need to hurry to get down.

And then yesterday I awoke to the news that a skydiving airplane went down in Hawaii, and all 11 people on board died. I've been watching to find the names of those who perished, wondering if I knew any of them. Apparently the plane took off and not long after began to experience control problems, and the pilot headed back to the airport but didn't make it. The plane crashed and immediately caught fire, with no chance for anyone to escape. Usually, if the plane is high enough, more than a few thousand feet up, the jumpers can escape, but not in this case. It just didn't have enough altitude yet. It shocked me to hear of it, and many memories emerged of other fatalities that suddenly took dear friends away.

I've had a few close calls, and even a couple of times had to exit the small jump plane far from where we had taken off, but I have never been close to crashing. That doesn't mean it wasn't always on my mind, with me being ready to bail out if necessary right from takeoff, and remembering how I would breathe a sigh of relief when we reached an altitude that would allow for an emergency exit.

There were three tandem students on that plane, who probably had no idea what was happening. They weren't even skydivers yet, and their families were on the ground, waiting for them to return. What a tragedy. I have learned the names of the tandem instructors and didn't personally know them, at least as far as I know at this time. I have known a few friends who moved from the mainland to become professional skydivers at that drop zone in Hawaii, which is why I thought I might know one or more of them.

The community of skydiving is a small one, with only somewhere under 50,000 current skydivers covering the entire United States, so when something like this happens, I am aware that everyone I knew during those years is following this event and mourning the loss of life, even if they didn't know anyone personally. Of course, the same thing is true of any sport that has the possibility of fatalities, but it's a very special group of us who love to jump out of airplanes.

I stopped skydiving because it was time, but a decade ago I could not imagine my life without that wonderful thrill. However, as we grow older, our priorities change as the years pass. The young woman I was still resides within me, but now I am an old woman who has entirely different interests. My latest challenge is taking yoga classes and trying to maintain flexibility and balance. Tomorrow I will start a new class, a bit more difficult than the ones I've been taking the past few years, and I'm excited to see how I do with it. If I find it's too difficult, I can always fall back to my usual level. Yoga has given me a great deal, and I enjoy seeing the same people every week, commiserating over our challenges. These days, I look forward to the classes every bit as much as I once looked forward to the weekends when I could skydive.

Yesterday I walked seven miles with a dozen or so women whom I've also come to love and care for, on our annual trip to Lummi Island, only accessible by ferry. We had the adventure of the ferry ride, the walk, and an enjoyable time together afterwards sharing a lunch. It might not be as exciting as my earlier exploits, but it doesn't matter: I'm still enjoying life and looking forward to each day as it comes. Today I'll be heading to the coffee shop, as usual, and then going to the movies with my friend Judy. Life is good.
Sometimes we should express our gratitude for the small and simple things like the scent of the rain, the taste of your favorite food, or the sound of a loved one's voice. —Joseph B. Wirthlin
And with that, my morning Sunday post is done, the contemplation I've experienced while writing it beginning to morph into action. My partner still sleeps next to me, my tea is gone, and the coffee shop and my friends there will be assembling soon, and my usual chair will be waiting for me to sit in it. Plus the wonderful coffee that I enjoy so much will fill me with gratitude for all my blessings. That also includes you, my dear readers, who also fill me with joy, knowing you are there, too, even if I will never actually see you, I feel your presence within me. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well.


Linda Reeder said...

When I heard about the crash in Hawaii, I thought of you. You are my connection to that sky diving world. I did not follow up or read any of the details. It does sound very tragic.
We are gearing up to host a large party on Tuesday, so garden work and house cleaning are on our list of activities. That will keep us busy enough for this week.

gigi-hawaii said...

Yes. the tragic accident has been in the news constantly. Terrible.

Rian said...

I too thought of you when hearing of that sky-diving accident in Hawaii. Such a tragedy... these things make you pause. I know we shouldn't ask "why?" but we do. But I'm glad that you have your own good (and I'm sure a few bad) memories. I love the picture! I have one of my daughter who did a tandem sky-dive a few years ago. It was a beautiful day in San Antonio and it looked like so much fun that I thought of doing it myself one day.

William Kendall said...

I had not heard of that accident yet. Quite a tragedy.

Galen Pearl said...

I thought about you when I saw the news about that plane. I've always been intrigued by those who want to take to the sky. I'm a feet on the ground kind of person. I'm sure for those who share your love of sky diving, there is nothing like it. But you are right. We move through different stages in life. I've moved away from the external martial arts (taekwondo and kung fu) to internal martial arts like tai chi. Interestingly, tai chi is a very effective martial art, but it doesn't have the high impact, full contact aspects of the external arts. I most enjoy tai chi push hands (tai chi "sparring"), which still gets me in contact with other people so that we can learn from each other. Thanks for sharing your memories today.

Elephant's Child said...

I also thought of you when I saw the news.
My heart goes out to their families and friends.
I love that you continue to pack your life tightly with challenges and pleasures. Have a wonderful week.

The Furry Gnome said...

I thought of you when I read about that tragic accident.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I thought of you when I heard of that accident. So sad. One day at a time, we never know from one day to the next. We saw so many visibly ill people at the hospital this week walking around pushing IV poles...
I hope you have a really good week :)

Friko said...

There is a risk with all dangerous sports but losing 11 people in one go is tragic. I am glad you got out in one piece and enjoyed the many experiences your sky diving career brought with it. I like the way you live your life, looking for positives and remaining as active as possible, always happy to do so. There never seems to be any urgency or force behind your actions. Instead you come across as calm and peaceful, doing exactly what you want, when you want. I hope that remains true for many years to come yet.

Gigi said...

I think we all immediately thought of you upon hearing the news. Such a tragedy.

Keep looking for the things to be grateful for and that you enjoy - that is the secret to a happy life, I think.

Red said...

It's very sad that thee was a crash that took sky divers. It shouldn't happen. Many checks are made before take off but with many flights in a row those checks are omitted.

Marie Smith said...

Such a tragedy in Hawaii. Any time I hear of sky diving now I think of you Jan. What an exciting time that must have been when you were skydiving every weekend.

I understand how one moves on to other things in life. I was an avid traveler. Now I have no desire to travel off this small island at all. Now my focus is on life here, my husband, our grandchildren and daughter, our friends and activities.

Life is a series of transitions. I am content with this current stage as are you by the sound of it. We are lucky.

troutbirder said...

Knowing when and how to move on adapt and develop new interest is the key. Some of my teaching colleagues waited to long and the kids knew it...For me physical disabilities said it was time to give up all those outdoor adventures to be safe. I miss them but now have more time to read....:)

Arkansas Patti said...

You were my first thought when I heard of the tragedy. So grateful that you no longer have your knees in the air. We did worry you know. I feel so for the families and friends on the ground that had to witness the horror. When sharing a sport or occupation, we all become brothers and sisters. The hurt of one hurts all.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, I hadn't heard about this accident in Hawaii. I must have missed it on the national news. Thank you for your thoughtful account of what skydiving has meant to you and for sharing with us how truly, paraphrasing the poet John Donne, "no" skydiver "is an island, complete unto himself." All 50,000 of you are a community. Peace.

Glenda Beall said...

I am so sorry about that tragic plane crash. I don't know how you went up in those planes and jumped out. I could never have done that. Just getting into the plane would be a big step for me. You are still enjoying life although you don't skydive. I understand. When I see a horse in a pasture I long to climb on that horse and ride like the wind, but I can't do that anymore. I miss it so much, but I have moved on to other things I enjoy. Getting older doesn't mean we don't keep growing.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, Always enjoy hearing about your skydiving days. So sad about the crash in Hawaii. Congrats on 7 miles walked last Saturday. To me, 3 miles is a long way. :-) Hope you've enjoyed the mild weather this week. Have a great weekend ahead! John