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The Art of Living: Skydiving

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Flickr: SkydiveAndes
Flickr: SkydiveAndes

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The decision to freefall 13,000 feet out of a plane came after a family vote of "what to do tomorrow" while vacationing in Hawaii. My five children voted on skydiving. Even the little one, who was too young to come, voted for skydiving, because she wanted to see if I had the guts to do it.

"No way," I replied. "I am not jumping out of a plane."

"We voted," they said. "You promised majority would rule." They walked out of the room and sauntered off to the pool. I got on the computer and started researching the safety of skydiving.

Approximately 500,000 people pretend they are birds and jump out of a plane each year, tallying up more than 3 million jumps. There were a total of 25 deaths in North America in 2011. Frankly, that's pretty good math. Clearly skydiving is safer than driving a car. Or flying commercial. However, statistics aside, it clearly isn't a sport where you want to have a bad day. My favorite skydiving sticker says, "If at first you don't succeed, skydiving probably is not for you."

People have been using parachutes for hundreds of years. Around 1495, Leonardo DaVinci designed a wooden framed parachute right along with sketches of machines resembling modern day helicopters. During World War I, parachutes were introduced as rescue devices and the first emergency bailout from an airplane occurred in 1922. I have always felt that a parachute should come as standard gear on all commercial air transportation.

We wake up the next morning to beautiful Hawaii sunshine and all chow down a bacon and eggs breakfast, which I figure is probably worse for our health then a little airborne free fall. Truth be told, I was still in complete denial that I had agreed to throw myself out of an airplane with my beloved progeny. At this point, I have the choice of letting fear paralyze me or letting it motivate me. Had I been alone I might have opted for the former, but since I am not about to let my children skydive alone I opt for motivation.

After breakfast, we all head off to the skydiving school, which is basically a diminutive hut next to a minuscule airstrip. We are asked to sign a very large stack of release forms and watch a five-minute video that basically makes no sense.

For first jump you have the option of hurling yourself into space from 5,000 feet, 7,000 feet or 13,000 feet. Jumping from 13,000 feet means that you get a full minute of free fall prior to another five full minutes of "float time." If you are going to do it, you might as well do it right.

As we sat on the splintered bench under the wicked sun waiting for our turn we were able to survey the colorful shoots dropping to earth like gumdrops floating from space. Small planes taxi down the field one after another, loading up groups of smiling people who are ready and willing to defy and control their relationship to gravity.

Suddenly the intercom shouts: "Moulenes... you're up!" We move from the rickety bench to a dirt yard where we are paired up one by one with an instructor. My coach is Raul. Very cute. Great dark curly hair. Raul doesn't speak a lot of English. I'd like to say it was his second language but it was probably his third. And, he might have started studying it that week. I'm focusing on the very cute big smile.

"Hola," Raul says, as he grabs my hand and leads me off to a corner of the dirt patch we are being trained on. "We're going to have fun you and I." I'm thinking about what a stupid idea this is and that I could be sitting by the pool reading a book about quantum mechanics.

"So," says the smiling boy, "Very important things to remember when we jump: 1. Cross your hands in front of your chest 2. Lean your head back on my shoulder." My new smiling buddy from Puerto Rico winks and crosses my arms tight across my breasts and gently tilts my head back so it settles on his collar bone. I'm not sure why but this feels very comforting and I'm suddenly aware it has probably been way too long since I've gone on a date. "GREAT! You got it. Lets go."

We march out across an open field to a plane the size of a Geisha tuna can. There are no steps leading up to the little flying box. Someone pulls up a stepladder and we climb aboard. No seats either. Just a 10-foot plank that you sit on with your legs across either side so that people can push you along as you take turns jumping. I'm now feeling sick. What I have not shared yet with Raul is that I have a major fear of flying. I truly, deeply and passionately hate planes. Hate them! The good news regarding this point is that I figure I am going to be happier jumping out than actually flying in the stupid thing. We are suddenly in the air -- the plane of course has an open door so that you can fling yourself out, which makes the sound of the wind deafening. I turn to Raul and ask, "What do I need to know about when we come down to earth and land?" He laughs. "Oh, baby, don't worry, we have five minutes on the way down, I'll tell you before we hit."

Gee, that's just super reassuring!

"So, Raul," I say. "How about you tell me something really intimate about your life so I can develop some false trust in you?" At this moment Raul is tightly strapping my parachute onto his in the tandem jumping position.

"Okay baby, never let a Puerto Rican get this close behind you if you are not going skydiving!"

As the plane climbs higher and higher out over the ocean I'm now seated behind two children and in front of another and realize that I have actually made a commitment to jumping out of an airplane. I am reminded of the multiple voices from my past that have told me on recurrent occasions that I can, occasionally, be just a tad too impetuous.

"Hey everyone," shouts another instructor. "When you get to the door and freak... If you scream NOOOOOO it sounds a lot like GOOOOO with the wind factor up here." He is laughing very hard.

I turn around to glance at cute Raul over my shoulder... "I gotta be honest here, I'm feeling a BIT nervous -- kind of like puking-my-guts-out nervous."

He starts to gently rub my shoulders, leans in close and whispers, "Relax babe, just wait until you see the view from my office. By the way, I've jumped more than 22,000 times. I was a paratrooper in the military and I promise you I'll take care of you." He smiles that handsome smile. I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing, but I suddenly trust this man more than any male I've every met and I momentarily think I might like to marry him if I survive.

People start moving down the plank. Whoosh. I see daughter one fly out the side of the plane. Whoosh. Child two doesn't even settle on the edge of the bench he is so excited to jump. I'm being moved along. I'm not really aware of any reality or where I fit in time and space. I just am. My ass is sitting on the edge of an open door and my legs are dangling over the side of the plane out in some undefined and sweeping space. I look down at the ocean wondering if I can spot a dolphin. As I ponder this I suddenly realize my ass is no longer touching anything. I'm suspended in the open air with nothing sheltering me and 13,000 feet above the earth. My arms are stretched out like wings, and I feel the wind rushed against my body and face with such force that my throat feels parched. As my body rushes through air at more than 100 miles an hour, the thought that tiptoes into my mind is a margarita would be lovely.

The view of the world from above is simply spectacular. It is nothing like looking at Earth through the miniature window from inside a plane where you have to crank your neck to get a good vantage. The world below is a vast, open, full screen panorama. We turn our arms to the right and fly towards right, we lift our right arm and look left and guide ourselves across the open horizon. In flight you simply ask your body to move and it responds. Effortless.

"Want to summersault?" Raul asks. "Of course I do." We lean and spin gently in a circle and take a look at the world from 360 degrees. There is never a sensation of falling, simply a feeling of flying on the thermal winds that surround you... All too quickly it's coming to an end, and Raul tells me to tuck my legs. We touch down. I have kids racing toward me yelling, "Can we go again, can we?" The answer is of course. Anything so simple, so easy and so empowering is worth doing as often as possible.

To be continued... The Art Of:

Scuba Diving Certification! Motorcycles. Pole Dancing. Kindess. Poker. Salsa. The Perfect Horse. Race Car Driving. Wilderness Survival Camp. Tennis. River Rafting. Charity. Piloting a Plane. Guns and Snakes. Growing Bonsai Trees. Parkour. Cattle Cutting. Organic Gardening. Snow Boarding. Knife Throwing. Fly Fishing.

For information on finding a local drop zone visit: www.uspa.org.

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