I jumped out of a plane last Saturday.
Go back and look at those first two words again. They’re important.
Skydiving was added to my bucket list shortly after my divorce. And, thanks to a friend’s encouragement and leg-work, it was finally scheduled to happen last weekend. I spent the hours (almost a two-hour drive from my home) and minutes leading up to the actual jump thinking about one moment in particular – the one spent in the doorway when the decision is made to leave the relative safety of the plane’s bare metal floor for the unknown of the sky, with the nearest floor 14,000 feet below.
And I wasn’t sure I’d be up to making that decision.
My instructor, strapped to my back while we both straddled the narrow bench seat in an awkward parody of two high school students sneaking in some PDA, walked me through what to expect:
“We’ll slide up the bench together. Stand up when you reach the end and duck walk over to the door. Stand at the opening with your legs bent. You can either have your toes at the edge or you can hang them over the edge. I’ll say ‘ready’ and rock forward, ‘set’ and rock back and then when I say ‘go,’ jump.”
“Oh, my toes will definitely not be hanging over the edge,” I said laughing at myself.
“Oh come on,” one of the other instructors said, “What’s the worst that could happen? You might fall out of a plane?”
Wait. Yeah, I guess that is the worst that could happen.
His words had a way of putting it all in perspective.
Although I thought differently at the time, I am now so thankful that my first marriage ended the way it did. I never had to take that leap of faith, leaving the relative security of a known marriage for the unknown vastness beyond. I didn’t jump; I was shoved off the marriage. And by the time I realized what happened, there were no choices left to be made.
On Sunday, I took that leap of faith. When I heard the hard “g” of “go,” I made that jump. It’s funny. I had spent so much time thinking about leaving the plane, I never spent much energy thinking about what free fall would feel like. So it caught me by surprise.
There’s no feeling of falling. The main sensation comes from the wind, stealing away breath (and taking my screams away with it) and buffeting the ears. The closest experience I can compare it to is the wind when you’re on a motorcycle with an open helmet or the feeling of being at the bow of a speedboat (without the hard slaps of the nose of the boat on the water).
But the best part of free fall is that you have only one choice: acceptance.
After all, there’s only one way to go.
Once the chute opens, the wind’s assault is replaced with a calm sense of floating. Even though you’re still moving rapidly towards the earth (about 15ft/sec at that point), your brain doesn’t register it as falling. In fact, from the moment I stepped off the plane, my brain seemed to be screaming, “What the $@#%?” It took it most of the day to process what just happened.
Interestingly, when I stood up after the soft landing, my legs were not shaky as they usually are after a release of adrenaline. Instead, I felt peaceful. Calm. Happy.
And lazy. It’s funny, whenever I thought about being productive that afternoon, my brain kicked up the excuse, “What you just jumped out of a plane. And now you want to do laundry???”
I acquiesced and spent the remainder of the day at the pool.
I started my divorce in free fall. I had to accept the situation even as my brain was screaming that we were going to die. Although it was a solo jump that time, I was lucky to have others coaching me on how to orient myself again and how to activate my chute. That landing wasn’t as gentle as the one last Sunday, but it felt just as good to be back on the ground.
I often talk with people when they are contemplating leaving the known space of their marriage. A marriage that has become a malfunctioning plane. And they are trying to decide if they have the tools to repair the engine, if the plane is in less distress than it appears or if they will be more likely to survive by jumping off.
And it’s funny. Just like I was on Sunday, they’re so focused on that leap, the rest blurs into some vague prediction. But like my instructor last weekend, I’ve been there and I know they’ll be surprised by the experience and that they’ll land safely when it’s time.
It’s a leap of faith.
It’s trusting that you have the ability to navigate.
It’s trusting that your team has the knowledge to coach you through the transition.
And it’s trusting that you’ll make it to solid ground again.
Peaceful. Calm. And happy.