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Daniel Will-Harris

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Yet Another Life Lesson

Posted: 10/03/11 01:11 AM ET

When I turned 50 I decided it was time to start trying new things. Since this can be scary -- I imagine myself wearing a T-shirt that says, "Nobody's died from this yet!"

So I donned my imaginary T-shirt and got on the boat to go parasailing. I wanted to do it. I practically begged to do it. I wanted to fly.

Yet as soon as I was on the boat that would pull the parasail through the air, I started to think of reasons that maybe this wasn't the best idea I'd ever had.

I was on the boat with two couples. They'd fly together, I'd fly alone. I looked at them and realized that together they probably weighed more than I did alone. That was comforting.

Even so, I wasn't ready to go first, so I let the couples fly first. This was either smart (let's make sure it all works!) or dumb (what if it's worn out by then?).

The first to fly was a nice elderly couple who looked like they were made out of beef jerky. Honestly I've never seen such tanned, wrinkled and happy people. They praised the Lord before taking off, but, oddly, not when they landed alive. Next hoisted aloft was a nice young couple from Missouri on their honeymoon. They went up, they came down, oblivious that this would be a metaphor for their marriage.

My turn. I took some deep breaths, then thought, "What's the worst that could happen?" The rope could break and I'd I float, harmlessly, down to lake Tahoe. No sharks or anything. Not like when I was 12 and my mother let me try an early version of parasailing on a Mexican beach that involved being guided by an 8-year-old boy and his 12-year-old friends driving their boat. Once I was up in the air, they toyed with me -- dropping me down until I had to pull my feet up to avoid the huge hammerhead shark just below the surface. Good times.

No, something worse could happen -- the harness straps could snap, and I could plunge into the water. At that height, hitting it would be like hitting concrete. The Golden Gate bridge is only 200 feet from the water and when people jump from there they rarely survive. Uh oh. What was I thinking? Oh, right, "Nobody's died yet."

But wait -- there goes a helicopter -- what if they fly too close and deflate the chute... or worse, the blades could carve me into carpaccio.

Maybe I should stay in the boat. Flying's for the birds.

But it was my turn. "I love these kinds of things," I reassured myself, waddling to the back of the boat strapped into a harness that made me look like Grandfather Time and Baby New Year rolled into one.

Two young men connected the harness' chrome clips to the parachute. Just two clips to hold large me... what if the metal had a stress fracture, what if I had a stress fracture?

But before I could think of anything else terrible, the boat accelerated and I felt myself being pulled back -- and up, up and away. And yes, "Up, Up and Away" was playing in my head.

We'd been warned about the harness, you want it under your thighs otherwise it's uncomfortable... and it was under my thighs and still uncomfortable -- mostly because I clung to it for dear life, as if that would somehow help.

I enjoyed it when I was close to the water -- I could feel the movement and also feel the drop wouldn't kill me. Then I started to go up and up and up until the surprisingly thin rope that was connecting me to the boat was taut.

It was then that I noticed the little knot. Just one little knot connecting the parachute and me to the boat -- 800 long feet below. It was the weakest link, looking like it was going to unravel. Don't believe me? I took a photo of the knot in case you think I'm just being overdramatic.

2011-09-20-Parasailingsmallknot.png


At first it was hard to see the natural glory of the lake and hills because I was focused on the little knot.

I was alone, as high as a 60 story building, hanging from a thread.

We'd also been warned that we'd hear snapping noises and this was normal. It was good they'd warned me or I'd have been even more sure that the snapping involved the harness or rope or something kind of crucial like that.

After a few minutes of holding on, I realized it didn't matter if I held on or not -- I was there and this is how it was -- and nobody had died yet. Chances were I wasn't going to be the first.

So I let go, put my arms out like wings -- and flew. Then I felt like I was on the world's largest swing set, hanging from the heavens.

Everything came into focus at last -- the blue sky, the blue water, the green hills, the soft wind. It was like one of those flying dreams, where you can just let the wind lift you. It was lovely.

Now when I looked up and saw the knot again, I thought, "OK -- so I'm hanging by a thread -- that's a good metaphor for life."

If this was the last thing I did, well, there were worse ways to go.

I imagined a new T-shirt: "Nobody's died from this yet -- and there are worse ways to go."

 
 
 

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