I brushed death on my birthday, fell from a plane.
But I didn’t want it to end.
Not life, not my birthday, and not the freedom of looking out on this beautiful chunk of rock and water we call Earth from the viewpoint of eagles.
You could never want that to end.
Humans are not designed to be here – in the space of birds and flying metal.
I dared myself to do something us bookworms don’t usually do for our kicks because I just couldn’t stop dreaming about it, wondering what it is like. With a big rounded number on the horizon, I finally pushed myself forward. I picked up a phone, made a booking, paid the money.
And what a gift. It’s now hard to imagine another any dearer than free-falling beneath a multi-hued canopy strapped to a stranger with my fate in her/his weathered hands.
My insides ache to do it again, such is the intense awesomeness of carving a path through the sky cushioned by an invisible mass of atmosphere, chemicals, rain drops, airborne stuff jammed between my clunky wingless human mass and the graceful green, blue and red planet below.
I pine for the big blue above me, almost constantly.
And you don’t know this until you know this, but your perspective on your place in the world shifts on its axis. You tilt.
Now when I gaze up my eyes linger longer, soaking in the bigness, drinking the openness of the ever-present sky that sees all. Honouring it. Thanking it. Missing it. Knowing it.
I consciously, deliberately, dared myself to an act some folks label ‘near death’ and in a way, it is.
But not because you are tempting death by rolling out of a plane strapped to a parachute, which, when you think about it, is the most sensible way to roll out of a plane.
Truth is, dying does not enter your thoughts when hurtling towards the ground.
It is ‘near-death’, not in a cliched way but because your mind is finally quiet like I imagine the Big Sleep will one day be.
Life’s cacophony goes mute. You engage with your big fall on a purely sensory level; the touch of the thermal wind, the sting of freshly minted rain mist on your skin.
All that is present is life. In facing death, you become supremely alive.
I’ve asked career skydivers and mates who’ve dived and found a common theme: expect to yearn to return to the sky within minutes of returning to the ground.
Why? As new divers will discover, once your post-dive cocktail of endorphin loses fizz you feel the real comedown. The emotional crash to ground. You feel slumped, flat, alone; few others truly understand. You want to strap up, immediately. You need to take flight. It’s now your natural state of being.
But you also have to remember how to function as a land creature with wingless status, and that, I’ve found, takes time.
Humanness will feel like dead weight until you can accept our species’ mortal limitations. Confession: I am still waiting.
Diving from the sky sharpens the senses like nothing else you will ever do while drawing breath. You know if it goes wrong (and statistically, the odds are slim it will) you will almost certainly die.
But it is not as simple as that. For me, the rush didn’t come from ‘surviving’. You know it could happen, stats show about 1 in about 70,000 jumpers will not survive, but then that could happen if you slip in the shower tonight and will 100% happen some day in the next 100 years.
That knowledge alone does not give you the rush when you skydive. That would be morbid. Skydiving is morbid’s arch rival.
Tempting fate, yes, like every day, I guess you are.
And yes skydiving does top up your inner reserve of fearlessness, always an asset when facing fearsome foes in our everyday lives.
But the biggest pay-off of all, the golden egg is, if the dive goes right in those seconds of unhindered flight and air and speed and beauty from above, you are forced to surrender from everything you think you know about yourself, your fears, your chores, everything, except your own life.
There is nothing ambiguous about skydiving. You are stapled to those precious moments with your arms/’wings’ falling through air at 220 kph.
There is no turning back once the door slides open, the sky calls you. You shuffle over to the opening, tuck your feet under the lip, arch your neck back like a banana. And you tumble, gifted with a once-in-your-lifetime view of the underside of an aircraft bidding you farewell as you go your separate ways.
Then you complete your 360-degree rotation and for 45 seconds (or up to 75 seconds if your parachute doesn’t immediately inflate, like mine) you are free…
Life as you know it will never look exactly the same way again. Leonardo da Vinci knew it. So too will you.