We fell to the earth at about 120 miles per hour; roughly twice faster than the typical speed on a freeway. We plunged from 13,000 feet up in the sky and dived to an elevation of 8,000 feet in less than 50 seconds. That instant must have been what it feels like to be in a plane crash. From there on my tandem skydiver and I parachuted to the ground and in about five minutes it was over. Being up there, however, seemed like forever; it was surreal and it was a crazy thrill.
Weeks before, my wife, Barbie, accepted her officemate’s invitation to parachute jump. Only four of the fifty people invited said yes. She and I initially thought she’d do it first and then we’d do it together if the experience was worth it. The high risk was a low factor in our decision.
There is no liability insurance coverage for parachute jumping. Its consequences include the risks of sprains, broken bones, serious injury and death. Parachutes may not always work the way they are intended or expected. A jumper signs a legal contract and release of liability that explicitly says so.
Two hours before arriving at the airport skydive area, my wife’s resoluteness convinced me that it would be better if I join her during her first sky jump. I wanted to be with and by her come what may. Never did I dream that I would sky dive but I had to do what I got to do.
I signed the tandem parachute jumper contract and release of liability agreement right after watching a three minute video on how to skydive. I emptied my pocket and detached my false tooth. Except for the holy rosary hidden in my jacket’s secret pocket, I left all my things, whether potentially dangerous or not, in my car. Then for over an hour, my group mind-numbingly waited for our turn to jump.
Our turn came. A parachute operator put a harness on each one of us and briefed us once again on how to dive. Nick, my tandem parachute operator, introduced himself to me; got a wrist video cam; and picked up our parachute. We walked from the hangar towards the Cessna plane that would be taking us thirteen thousand feet up. “Bernie, how are we doing today”, he asked. “Great”, I answered (while my inner voice countered to me, “Crazy”).
I got my seat on the airplane with Nick at my back. He fastened to the four corners of my harness the parachute he had at his back. There were two rows of skydivers facing the plane’s back door. Each tandem pair sat behind another on a foot high bench. My wife was on the row to my right. She was excited but calm. I was apprehensive. I glued my left hand to the metal railing by the side of the airplane.
Hold it. I am afraid of heights. I avoid looking out the windows of high rise buildings. I never sit by the windows of airplanes. Yet there I was about to skydive. I zipped out my fear of heights by telling myself that what I was seeing were only aerial photographs.
I made faces at the video cam fastened at Nick’s left wrist. How the hell was I supposed to face this jump? I have dealt with dangerous situations before. Being a short guy, a lot of taller guys have bullied me. Either way they lose the fight they have with me. Here’s why: if they lick me, they are branded as bullies and if I beat them, they’re branded as wimps. So, I have taken bullies head on. Was this another street fight? Against who or what, I had no time to distinguish.
Yeeeeeeehaaaa! All of a sudden it was time to jump. “Here it comes; son of a _____ (Expletive in the Filipino language not verbalized)”, I silently said to myself. The first pair jumped. Every ten seconds more or less another pair jumped. I was the fourth to jump. My wife was the fifth.
Following the procedure taught at the hangar, I held on to my harness. I leaned my head backwards to Nick’s shoulder. We jumped. For a few seconds my eyes were closed. I opened them just a bit and the blue flashing skies glinted to my eyes. Nick tapped my right shoulder twice to signal me that I can now let go of the harness. I raised both of my hands and shouted. Wooooooohhhhhhhhh!!!! Give me five; he gestured. I slapped his right palm. We dived.
Nick set off the parachute. It opened. (That it did was entirely an act of God.) “Wooooooohhh!!! Haaahhhh!! That was cool man.” I exclaimed.
On the way down, Nick, told me to hold the left and right levers of the parachute. “Pull down the right lever”, he said. I did and our parachute turned to the right. “Now pull down the left lever”. I did and we turned to the left. “Now we are going to turn 360 degrees.” Nick pulled down the right lever and kept it down. Wooooooohhhhhhhhh!!!! (In my mind, the Guns and Roses sang “Welcome to the Jungle” and then the Red Hot Chili Peppers played “Can’t Stop”.)
The view below was exhilarating. Strips of green, dark gray lines and tiny square blocks morphed into farm lands, trees, streets, a dry river, houses, the airport and the parachutist landing area.
Nick and I landed. Wooh! I was speechless. I shadow boxed, pumped my chest with my fists and high-fived Nick.
Peace. I felt that the fear which was the real bully lurking in my psyche has fallen.
I saw Barbie and her tandem skydiver landing. I rushed to her and embraced her tighter than her harnessed parachute.
Here I am looking to the future. If and when this experience happens again, I would from the start let go and unchain my hand from those railings. Unfettered, I can and will instantly turn fully wide open all my six senses (with my sixth bolted to God), joyfully shout out, have no fear, and take on every millisecond of the experience; conscious that God will decide on opening the parachute for me as well as for my Barbie.
(Due to the limitations in the nature of my wordpress account, I cannot insert a video about this parachute jump. You may want to watch the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ri6Jqs5IIdw, my youtube account)