I remember a time when I was in my early twenties, sitting in my friends living room, a beer in hand, planning my first trip to anywhere. An opportunity presented itself. I had a chance to head West and visit the beautiful city of Vancouver. My friend wanted to move his life out there to join his brother, but he needed someone to scope the place out first. Looking back, it was a hell of a joyride.
I will spare you my memories of the Leafs facing down the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup playoffs. I will spare you the banana incident. The rain. The beautiful restaurants. The seething parts of the city. And I will spare you Augean. What the hell is an Augean? Exactly.
My friend wanted to do something special to remember our trip. He was adamant that we should go bungee jumping.
The idea of my fat ass, hanging upside down, nipples out, did not very much endear itself to my frugal mind. I searched for a solution that would deny my friends suggestion but I needed one that would not make me look like a total weeny.
Assuming my friend to be as weak as me, I blurted out that bungee jumping is for wimps and sissies and that real men would go skydiving.
How the hell did that happen?
We were going skydiving.
In a few weeks we flew to Vancouver, but every single day, twice a day, I dreaded the inevitable death that awaited me when I attempted skydiving.
What the fuck was I thinking?
I painfully imagined the sad news finally reaching my poor mother, of her dumb ass son, jumping from a perfectly good airplane, and meeting his own untimely death by coming to a sudden stop. They say it’s not the fall that kills you.
There were five of us. My friend, his brother, myself, and his brothers, two, pot smoking companions. The three of them thought that being three kilometers in the air was not high enough for them. They managed to get themselves a little bit higher.
We arrived in the middle of nowhere.
A beautiful piece of nowhere. It was sad and surreal at the same time. I was seeing everything for what I thought was the very last time, knowing that this was the end.
We had to go through the mandatory instructional course about the dangers of skydiving. I learned that many people don’t actually die skydiving. They just break many of their trying. I also learned that the body doesn’t actually stop when it hits the ground. It is a bit more rubbery and bounces a few times, before it finally rests.
Most importantly, I learned the good news that the last accident at this diving school was about two weeks prior to our arrival. This made it statistically reassuring that nothing would happen to us.
I just saw my mother crying, wondering what possessed me to risk my life.
But a miracle of miracles happened.
When we finished our training, it started to rain, and there was also a chance of a thunderstorm. We had to call it a day, and a beautiful wave of relief swept over me, like I never experienced before.
It didn’t last long. Half way through our car ride, my fear returned. It returned with a vengeance.
I didn’t want to jump, but I was too proud to back down.
A few days later we came back.
They divided us into two groups. Because of my sizable girth, I was chosen to go up with my friend. His brother and flying companions followed in the next plane.
I don’t remember much about going up, except running over the instructions I received, that would inevitably save my life.
It would have been easier if we made the decision to jump the first time, with the assistance of a trainer. However, because we were young and cheap, we pocketed our money, but had to face the task of jumping, alone.
The moment finally came.
The plane was at its proper elevation and it was time for us to go. I remember walking up to the open door of the plane. Wind rushing inside, thinking how stupid this all was.
Overwhelmed with fear, and suppressing my tears, I took a step out to hang on the wing of the plane, as instructed.
My foot blew involuntarily and I instantly locked eyes with the instructor.
“That’s normal, have fun”, he said.
I was on the wing of the plane. My hands holding on to dear life, waiting for the thumbs up.
I let go.
I let go without thinking because it happened so fast. I was confused. It was so quick.
Engulfed in chaos of the moment, it finally hit me. Holy shit. I was flying.
Not hurling towards my death.
It was a matter of opinion.
A few expletives did escape my mouth, but eventually a deep peace settled over me.
After a few moments, I was jolted back by the opening of a beautiful rectangular canopy.
All my fear was gone.
All that remained was a whale like bird and the beautiful countryside of a western province.
I glided my way back to my landing spot; feeling amazing.
The full meaning of this moment didn’t come in focus until a few weeks later, when I was back home. Back, grinding out the existence of my ordinary life.
I don’t remember the details, but I do remember feeling scared. I remember facing something and being overwhelmed with fear.
It felt exactly like the moment before I jumped. It was just as intense and crippling.
I remembered that despite the fear, I jumped.
I didn’t think. I didn’t reason it out. I just leapt forward.
A man given to fly.
Whenever I fear now and again, I think back to that beautiful afternoon in Vancouver. I try to close my eyes and remember every livid detail.
I want a happy and meaningful life. There are dreams I need to chase down.
But for that…
When I am overwhelmed with fear…
I just need to see the thumbs up and let go.