The anticipation had built for hours: I am on my way to get dropped off of an airplane.
It is said (if not by someone else, then I’ll just make this up right now) that we discover the most intimate depths of ourselves in the moments we get closer to our uncharted territory; to our most voluptuous fears and extraordinary dreams. What is there to know about ourselves when we’re in auto-pilot mode?
I had a smile on my face from the moment we boarded the cute blue airplane with a plastic retracting door attached to its side. Instructors and jumpers, one by one, sitting in an orderly fashion inside the metal tube; Andy, my instructor, gave clear instructions and seemed reassured by my assuredness. I wonder if he could tell that my heart rate was probably shy of 190. We shared nervous laughter and cheesy lines for the GoPros dedicated to each jumper, and I got to watch some of the ritual of that team: they looked at each other one at a time and said “75”, before turning to the pilot and confirming something. I grinned some more, admiring the view – the higher we climbed, the more beautiful blueness I could see to my left, the expanse of the Pacific Ocean both intimidating and inviting. No point in wondering about the task at hand; by then I was attached to Andy by what seemed like 30 different clips and hooks. No turning back then.
One young man to my right was shaking uncontrollably, looking serious and grim, and I wondered at once what his motivation was. Did he think it was a good idea until that very moment? Was he purposefully making himself get over a fear of heights? I couldn’t have asked even if it seemed proper to, what with the noise inside the plane being so loud, but I contented myself with imagining it being a bad case of the nerves and the inevitability of that moment. Some part of my rational brain surely was shaking, too.
Once the pilot gave us the thumbs up (another series of numbers and nods and repeated messages between each instructor), the first pair took no time to get on with their business – one quick “swoosh” sound and they were gone. Just like that. Down to hug the Earth. It seemed like only a second later it was me dangling from the edge of that airplane door, hanging only by the harness that secured me to my instructor, the wind blowing past my ears unfathomably fast and taking with it any last moment words or instructions, eyes open to an unbelievable expanse of greens and whites and blues that overwhelmed all of my senses at once –
And then the drop.
For a few seconds, I knew three things only: one, my first instincts did not like the 15,000-foot fall ahead of me (which means my body is evolutionarily efficient, right?). Two, once you’re free falling you’re falling very fast. Three, my smile turned slightly irreversible because the wind was forcing my mouth open and I couldn’t breathe or hear shit but oh my god there was nothing else like that feeling of heeding the signal to open up my arms and dive straight into the arms of gravity as if I was an unafraid bird shooting through the sky. It was like finally understanding physics, admiring geography and shushing the alarm bells going off in your head all at once – an experience as terrifying as exhilarating. One second you’re there, flying up, then you’re on that damn edge, sitting and dangling your feet in the face of carelessness, and then you’re falling and you know in that moment that you could do this a thousand times and never get over that feeling of picking up speed, faster and faster, dropping so quickly it feels nearly impossible to catch your breath and stretching your neck to each extreme in order to drink in the view because it only lasts so long…
And then the parachute goes off, and the noise stops – you’re floating. You’re floating through the skies. The ocean beneath you is an emerald jewel glistening under the early spring sun, magnificent in its sheer infinity and contrasted by the pearly miles of thin beaches, then roads, then houses, then fields and mountains; looking at the world from up there, while the formerly ruthless wind is now caressing you with the intimate touch of a lover, you do start wondering how in the world there is so much beauty and we get to see it and experience it and tell others about it because beauty feels more real when it’s shared – for who would believe me if I told them that from up there, perspective forces us to admit that it’s crazy that we get to live on this rock and do things like dive into the sky in order to see it better?
Thinking about the rush of adrenaline through my veins gives me the goosebumps and makes me sad that watching the videos and photos from my jump only make me more nostalgic, knowing no amount of description or visual proof will get close to the feeling I had when we landed down on Wollongong Beach. It shifted something in me, reassured the constant feeling in my gut that life is out there to be lived, to be grasped, to be sucked to the marrow – not just when we’re jumping out of the sky, but in all the other moments, too.
As I walked back from the beach to the building to drop off my gear, I found to my surprise that I was still smiling. Voluntarily, by now. My legs felt like jello post-adrenaline rush, my hair was disheveled to an embarrassing extent, and my thighs throbbed from where the harness dug in, and over and over in my head I kept having that thought that I live for: man, I’ve never felt so alive.