Scarlett’s Letter July 21, 2013

I’m not sure at what point in my life I decided I “needed” to go skydiving. I really had no inclination to do so, ever, until the past few years. It may have begun as a joke with my kids. We decided when my daughter turned eighteen the three of us, my daughter, my son and myself, would go get tattoos, go skydiving and go to a hookah bar, together, all on the same day. For several reasons, it didn’t happen.  Now my daughter lives in New York and my son is headed to Hawaii, so I am left here, with nothing better to do than to go skydiving by myself.

So I did.

I did it in celebration of my fiftieth birthday, actually. I figured, having made it through a half a century, I needed to do something drastic to kick off the next half century. Sort of like a rebirth, or an affirmation of life.

I did a tandem jump, meaning I was firmly strapped to a man who knew what he was doing. How brave is it, really, to strap yourself to someone, pay big bucks to have them fall out of an airplane and guide you safely to earth? Based on the feedback on Facebook, I’d say some consider it brave, some consider it insane, and some do it nearly every day and welcome you to the club. Brave or not, it provides you with the experience of losing control and then regaining control. It gives you enough of an experience to consider being able to do this on your own.

Once someone else does that for you one time, and you are “imprinted” with that experience of loss of control and regaining control, you can more readily take the next step of doing it on your own, perhaps. I am fairly certain I would not have been able to exit the plane on my own. I don’t think they even allow that now. I’m pretty sure you have to do a tandem jump, then take a bazillion classes, and then solo jump. I don’t know, I haven’t’ really checked into it. Yet. The tandem jump worked out very well. He jumped out of the plane and I really, at that point, had very little to say about the whole thing. Having experienced free fall and the feeling of the chute opening, and drifting to the ground while taking in the scenery across three counties, I am quite comfortable with the whole ordeal, I think I could easily do it on my own once I took the required lessons.

Many years ago, before I was ever in the picture, the man I married attempted to sky dive. His twin brother was an avid skydiver, so my husband decided he needed to try. He paid to be taken up in the plane and when it came time to jump, he could not let go of the plane. His fingers were wrapped around some sturdy piece of airplane and could not even be pried loose. He landed with the plane and never made another attempt. And that sums up much about him; unable to let go of the plane. Years later, he took private pilot lessons, at considerable expense. He finally got to the point where he had enough experience to solo, and he kept opting for “just one more lesson”. He never did his solo flight, never got his private pilot license and his training is all expired by this point, I’m sure. More recently, and the catalyst for the death of the already unhappy marriage, was his decision to “day trade”, in his own fashion. After observing the “behavior” of stocks over a very long period of time, he devised a plan where he could make very short trades, purchase and sell again within minutes. I did an independent study of his plan, and a financial model of the potential results. It looked good, it looked like there was considerable potential, so I consented to let him try. He hasn’t worked since. Nor has he made any money since. Every morning, for the next couple of years, he sat in his chair at the kitchen table, disheveled, unshowered, over-caffeinated, and wide-eyed with fear, and he watched the potential trades come and go. He couldn’t let go of the plane. He just couldn’t make the trades, and when he did, he second-guessed himself and bought and sold too early or too late and either made very little, broke even or lost. But he certainly did not replace his income and the empire we’d spent a lifetime building, fell. All because he couldn’t let go of the plane.

Skydiving is interesting. That may seem like an understatement. It is and understatement, and it isn’t. Skydiving is amazing, the adrenaline rush is awesome! But skydiving is also interesting in the way things become interesting when you overanalyze them, like I do pretty much everything.

Upon exiting the plane, free falling is what much of life feels like; you’re out of control and just plummeting. When the ripcord is pulled and the chute deploys, you regain control, you grab the handles and steer yourself to safety. In skydiving, as in life, we are in command, even if we feel like we are in free fall and completely out of control. All we ever have to do is pull that ripcord, grab the handles and steer ourselves safely back to the ground. When do we feel like we’re in free fall? After high school graduation, before beginning college. After college graduation before landing that first job. Any time we leave a comfortable job in quest for new, better, more enriching experiences. Selling a house to buy another. Moving from one city to another. Ending a long-term relationship. Retiring from a long, rewarding career. Receiving a dreaded diagnosis. We are almost always in free fall in some realm of life, or are approaching it. Yet, we usually land on our feet and continue to live.

This applies to just about anything. Change is scary, we are fearful of much in life, and we allow those fears limit us, limit our potential, limit our possibility for growth, fulfillment, happiness and possibly even being able to contribute in a very meaningful way to the world in which we live. Do you think, possibly, there is a scientist out there, somewhere, who has the potential to develop a cure for cancer or AIDS, but is, perhaps, limited by their fear? Perhaps there exists somewhere a gifted leader and politician, someone who is honest and has integrity and could help our divided nation overcome its partisan differences, but because they are limited by their fear, they don’t pursue their gift. What gifts do you have that your fear of change, uncertainty or failure prevent you from sharing?

Whether you decide to skydive in order to fully understand the analogy of free-fall and then regaining control, or whether you just rely on my description of it, do consider finding a way to overcome fears that limit you. My favorite quote by Eleanor Roosevelt has helped me many times over; “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Just let go of the plane.

Tumbling out of an airplane 13,000 feet in the air, strapped to a man who, hopefully, knows what he's doing.
Tumbling out of an airplane 13,000 feet in the air, strapped to a man who, hopefully, knows what he’s doing.
Free-fall in skydiving feels a lot like those things in life that scare us, but the view is better.
Free-fall in skydiving feels a lot like those things in life that scare us, but the view is better.
I am obviously having a terrible time.
I am obviously having a terrible time.
The ripcord is pulled, the chute deploys and control is regained. We drift back to the ground safely and enjoy the view across three counties along the way.
The ripcord is pulled, the chute deploys and control is regained. We drift back to the ground safely and enjoy the view across three counties along the way.
We are always in much better control than we think.
We are always in much better control than we think.
The planned landing method, had I known, I wouldn't have worn my MissMe jeans with all the rhinestones on my ass. I don't think I left any glitter behind from my glittery behind!
The planned landing method, had I known, I wouldn’t have worn my MissMe jeans with all the rhinestones on my ass. I don’t think I left any glitter behind from my glittery behind!
No matter how scary life can be, after the free fall, and we pull the ripcord and regain control, we land safely on the ground and are able to walk away. Then we really want to do it again!
No matter how scary life can be, after the free fall, and we pull the ripcord and regain control, we land safely on the ground and are able to walk away. Then we really want to do it again!

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