It may have been my son's birthday, but *I* got the best gift: Freedom.
When my son Noah turned 18, I asked him if he wanted to go skydiving. (I had always wanted to go skydiving - a personal bucket list item, l guess.) He thought about it and decided it was something he would brave. Noah’s birthday came and went, and l didn't really have the money at the time, so we put it on hold.
By the time June rolled around and he graduated from high school, it seemed like the perfect time to go. I was so excited--until l hit the “purchase now” button. Suddenly the gravity of what l had just done hit.
The morning of July 1st was supposed to be our jump, but we received a call that our appointment was postponed due to cloud cover. (Honestly, I had woken up a bundle of nerves, so l was fine postponing.) When we were finally on our way, traffic came to be complete stop and l thought for sure we would miss our appointment time. Traffic lifted--and we were really doing this.
I was so nervous when we arrived and signed all the paperwork. When we were done, a rather buff dude covered in tattoos (who happened to be a former Marine) asked for Noah and introduced himself as Robbie, Noah’s tandem skydiving instructor. l immediately felt like my son was in good hands.
Then a voice called my name. I turned to see a teenager (or so l thought). "I'm your instructor, Derek," the kid said. In my head I was saying, "Oh no you're not, little boy. Now go run along and find your father, cuz I'm pretty sure he's my instructor." I didn’t say that, though. I just asked him how long he'd been an instructor.
"Two weeks,” he said. Immediately we both start laughing. I began to learn how beautifully they use the art of humor at Piedmont Skydiving to help ease your nerves. Little did my instructor know that l had walls up, holding in years of pain from the betrayal of those closest to me.
Little did l know the instructor with the boyish looks was actually the most experienced instructor of the whole bunch. I was in capable hands indeed. There were more rising nerves on the plane ride up, but so much more laughter to ease them.
When it was almost time to go Derek said, "When l open the door, take a slow, deep breath, relax and have fun." In response, l thought, "Relax?! That's easy for you to say." How could I relax? l was about to be released from an emotional prison. In that prison, l had difficulty trusting others. Outside the plane, I’d be a new person in so many ways.
As Derek swung the plane door open, l glanced down into the abyss. I had to look away; I was a bit crippled by fear. In a moment of decision l had to choose to trust this man-child l was strapped to--that he knew what he was talking about; that the experience would be fun; that he would deliver me safely to the ground. We swung our legs out and placed them on that tiny step near the wing. I held my breath and closed my eyes in fear--and suddenly we were airborne.
The sensation wasn't scary at all. It felt like we were floating, with a great gust of wind blowing against us. Soon, Derek tapped my arm, indicating that I could release my death grip from the strap. As l let go, l experienced complete freedom.
Later, when I'd rewatch the video footage of that moment, I'd have tears streaming down my face. In that video, I can witness the transformation in myself from a moment of complete fear to one of absolute release. There is no greater feeling than freefall.
After the parachute engaged, we floated down and l saw the world with brand new eyes. Maybe walls can come down. Maybe people can be trusted. Maybe we hold ourselves back in life from the fear of the unknown when there are truly wonderful things to experience. Maybe we shouldn't judge a book by it's cover--because behind boyish looks can lie the talents and skills of an expert.
And maybe, just maybe, if you take that step of faith and learn to let go, you can truly experience what it feels like to fly.
Oh--and I have one more thing to show you. The picture on the right was taken on June 14th, prior to my first tandem jump. The picture on the left was August 9th, following it. There was no special diet...only one where a weight was truly lifted from my life which resulted in the outward transformation. Better than Weight Watchers, if you ask me.