When I was a little girl, in Ms. Wright’s 2nd grade class, we were asked to write an essay on what animal we’d like to be for a day. Some students chose to be lions while others chose to be giraffes. A classroom full of bright-eyed second graders lost in their imaginations as they dreamed about being any animal in the world.
Me? I chose a bird. A bluebird to be specific.
One by one each student stood in front of the class, telling everyone about their amazing day as the animal of their choice – from roaring across the jungle to hopping across Australia.
When I went up, I talked about being a bird. How fantastic it would be to fly across great expanses, thousands of feet above the earth, with nothing but clouds and blue sky in sight. My teacher went on to frame my essay and told me how wonderful I made it sound – being a bird for a day.
As I continued to grow up, while I realized I would never be a bird, the thirst for that kind of uninhibited freedom that came with flying never left. For years and years, when people would talk about the biggest items on their bucket lists, mine always remained the same: skydiving. I wanted to fly.
The problem? I’m a total chicken. I’m talking major scaredy cat, cries on rollercoasters, gets faint at the top of a high set of stairs, big ol’ wimp. I’m the girl who while her head is dreaming in the clouds, much prefers to have two feet safe on the ground. Which is why I shocked about every single person who knows me when I told them I had purchased a ticket to go skydiving as part of conquering my fears and jumping (literally) out of my comfort zone for my 213 in 2013 Project.
Luckily for me, I was able to convince my brother and my sister’s boyfriend to jump with me, so on Friday night my sister and the two boys drove down from Pennsylvania for an adrenaline-filled weekend.
I woke up pretty early Saturday morning thanks to a dream I was having about my parachute not opening (because dreaming about dying hours before putting your life at risk is totally normal). As we were getting ready to head out the door, I received a text from the skydiving center alerting me that due to high winds, they were pushing jump time back by an hour. As if I needed any more reason to be nervous.
When we finally arrived it was all a whirlwind – filling out form after form, literally signing my life away. Sign here if you understand that you can die. Sign here if you understand that if you die, your loved ones can’t claim your life insurance. Sign here if you promise not to sue if you wind up falling to the earth, breaking every bone in your body and spending the rest of your life as a vegetable. Check, check, check.
Before I knew it, Vince, AJ and I were getting suited up in our harnesses and going over instructions that would make the difference between life and death. We practiced arching our backs, safety positions, how to land without breaking your legs off, you name it. And while I was yelling at my brain to pay attention with all my might, my thoughts were stuck somewhere between complete terror and excitement.
My amazing instructor Kurt, who sort of resembles Hulk Hogan, came up to me and stuck a video camera in my face asking if I was ready and who I wanted to say “goodbye” to. Somehow his constant jokes about being terrified to die and only having three days experience made me feel better. I know – I’m weird.
Hulk Hogan and I were the first to climb into the plane and AJ and Vince filed in shortly after. The plane was small, old and rickety – the kind of plane I wouldn’t even dare to get in to, yet alone jump out of. After the entire group got into place, the blades on the plane started turning and before I knew it we were climbing rapidly into the air.
500 feet. 2,000 feet. 7,500 feet. 12,000 feet.
I watched as the first pair slid to the edge of the plane and within a matter of seconds, they were gone. My hands were sweating, my legs shaking. I could barely find the strength to breathe.
Before I knew it, I was sitting on the edge of the plane. My feet were dangling 12,000 feet above the ground. When I looked up, the clouds were so close I could practically touch them. My hands were glued to the rail above me – the only thing keeping me from falling out of the plane.
My instructor yelled ‘Let go!’
And in that moment, that tiny, no more than a single second moment when my hands let go of the bar and there was nothing holding me back – from the 12,000 feet below me, from the years and years of fears that had built up and resulted in “I wish” or “What if” – all of it for that single moment was gone.
I let go of it all.
And I jumped.
And even though I was falling…
…I felt like I was flying.
I cried nearly the entire way down. Certainly some of those tears were out of fear, but most of them were reserved for the overwhelming pride I felt. For the once-in-a-lifetime view, with the mountains in the distance and treetops as far as the eye could see. For the freezing cold air that was rushing past my skin as I plummeted towards the earth in free fall. For doing something I had only dreamed of for years.
When the parachute opened, I breathed a sigh of relief as we floated down. My heart was beating so fast I was sure it was going to explode. And for the next 60 seconds or so, I enjoyed the view. The view that millions of people will never get to experience – but that I will get to hold on to for the rest of my life. The view that was mine and mine alone.
When we got to the ground, we wiped out (despite my best efforts at practicing), and when my face hit the earth, I wanted to cry again.
Who would have thought 15 years after writing that essay, I would finally get to be a bird.
Even if only for a minute.
[Looking for a good laugh? Check out the video below.]