This is something I wrote on October 18, 1983 after my second flight in an airplane. Like the first time I was in a plane, I jumped out solo in an old, round army surplus parachute. I have not edited it in any way.
We walked towards the building, a motley group, each on their own hidden mission. The tall, the thin, the short and the squat – each was there for a different reason. Perhaps we wanted to see if the thrill was the same the second time. Maybe we were there because the others were. Some were seeing if they could do it right, while others were just beginning. None could state exactly why we were there; the reasons varied. All of us knew, though, we were about to undergo an almost religious experience. It was a symbolic purging of the soul.
We entered the ready room like children into the toy store in December. Joking, laughing, and jeering the jumpsuits and helmets were pulled on, tossed, discarded, and tried: each person looking for that just right combination of outlandishness. We joked and talked about everything except what we were about to do. We could not discuss it anymore than one discusses his sins on the way to confession. We were ready. It was time to go.
We geared up, strapping and buckling ourselves into forty-five pounds of immobility. With a laugh we each reviewed the steps of activating our release, in the event of the main chute not opening. Deep down we knew it was no laughing matter. Two waddled off to the plane, two stood by to watch, the small talk dying as the plane roared to life.
An eternity flashed by too quickly. The others had landed and now it was our turn. Al would go first and then it would be me.
As we taxied down the runway I felt the plane lift off. It was like floating suspended in air. I knew the thrill of the Wright Brothers. I understood the jeer of the birds, understood their superiority over the slovenly creatures confined to the ground.
Alex had jumped I was next. Slowly and without grace I moved into position. There was some small talk with the jumpmaster. I felt no fear. I was calm, fascinated with the view. As the plane circled I reviewed my steps in my mind. I was completely relaxed. The jumpmaster smiled at me and said the words “door open”.
The time was here. The door flew open against the wing with a bang as the 110 mph winds rushed by. The adrenaline was blowing out the top of my skull. My heart rate increased. My stomach was about to burst. The labored breathing of the climbing plane was barely audible as I heard the words “out the door”. This was it. Should I stay or should I go? No doubt was in my mind. I swung my foot out of the door. My steel toed boots searching for the peg that served as a step. “Out on the strut” I heard.
I reached and grabbed the wing strut, one leg swinging in the air, the wind ripping through into my body. I was alive – I knew it! I never heard the words, but the slap on my ass was all I needed. The foot swung back, the hands let go and it was arch, arch, arch. The plane zoomed by. I was not falling, I was suspended in time. Watches stopped. Nothing moved – I was flying.
Suddenly, I felt myself righting, my feet toward the ground. A slight tug and I knew my parachute was opened. I stopped dead in the sky! Before, I had no sensation of falling – but now I was stopped in the sky. My canopy was clear and I could relax.
The silence was deafening. My senses were numb. Whether it was total sensory overload or depravation I will never know. I rode the wind and tamed her – arriving safely into the waiting arms of Mother Earth wishing only that the thrill would never end.
This week I again feel the pressures of life and living weighing heavily on my soul and I need the flying and falling. I need to look Death in the face and say “Screw you”. Only now do I realize that. I need the purging of my soul.