They will tell you that it’s as simple as putting your right foot on the step, waiting for your tandem partner to do the same, then simply counting to three. They will say it all in a calm voice, even though you just finished signing your name forty-seven times on various waivers assuring them that you and your heirs will not sue them for anything that might happen after that step. Right foot, right foot, 1, 2, 3. This is going to be cake.
It’s been six or seven years since I made the decision — a very conscious and probably overly belabored decision — to start being more open to new experiences. I was beginning the process of closing the chapter on a rather dark period and found myself in one of those moments when you take inventory of all that you’ve become and all that you still want to be. More than anything, it was painfully clear how incredibly insular my life had become. Much of it seemed like the sort of necessity that can only come from (often failed) attempts to manage a loved one’s addiction, followed by her journey toward recovery, with a couple rather serious heart surgeries of my own thrown in for good measure. But if I’m being honest with myself, those things, while legitimate, also served as wonderful excuses to never step outside of my cleverly crafted comfort zone.
I started small. I played golf here and there, something I’d always refused to do. I tried new foods and new restaurants, occasionally without reservations. I was more open to unplanned (unplanned!) opportunities when they presented themselves. I began to travel more, sometimes even on my own. I started reaching out to friends instead of habitually dodging their calls. Basically, I tried to learn to say the occasional yes when I always would have said no.
Good things have come from this developing change in course. I’ve driven on the Autobahn, discovered an absolute love for sushi, and I’ve taken time away to visit old friends in Los Angeles, bachelor-style. More recently, I’ve started taking yoga classes and have even hired a trainer, in an effort to be proactive with my health instead of always reactive. While these things may seem incidental for a lot of people, for me, the shift has been extraordinary.
A couple months ago, we were at dinner with my niece, a sort of celebratory goodbye meal before she would leave for Spain for a semester abroad. She’d recently been skydiving for the first time and was excitedly recounting every detail. The thought of skydiving wasn’t something I’d ever really considered, pro or con. It wasn’t some bucket list thing — I am inexplicably annoyed by the term “bucket list” — but it also wasn’t something that terrified me. It just hadn’t really been on my radar. Listening to my niece talk about it, though, I was struck (and then surprised) by how much I wanted to do it. So, we started to make plans. When she returned from her trip, we’d jump out of a perfectly fine airplane together. It was one of those unanticipated opportunities and I was going to say yes.
What they neglect to tell you is that when you go to place your foot on that small step, you will no longer be inside the plane. Intellectually, this is an obvious detail, but when the hatch swings open and the wind starts to rush in as you gaze down at the step below, the notion of “right foot, right foot, 1, 2, 3” suddenly becomes an immensely complicated concept to wrap your head around. Somehow, though, in that most surreal moment, you find yourself doing something that makes no sense. You step outside of a plane some 12,000 feet in the sky. And then, you jump.
What surprised me about my first jump wasn’t the adrenaline rush of the 45-second free fall that seems more like five or six minutes. That was expected, although not fully estimated. Instead, what surprised me most was what happened after the parachute opened. There was an immediate peace that I hadn’t fully anticipated and still can’t quite describe. It was a perfect beautifully blue day, with gorgeous views of rural Ohio below, and I was little more than a quietly drifting observer. It was the sort of stillness that I haven’t often allowed in great measure. It was the sort of stillness that might have previously received a no.