In one fast, practiced motion, my instructor yanked open the door of the airplane. Air blasted in, pursued by the angry snarl of a motor, at which point the brute reality of the moment finally hit me: Good lord. I’m about to fall out of an airplane.
Not that my terror at the prospect was anything surprising. When David and Michele - two co-workers and dear friends - hooked up my wife and I with the immensely generous gift of a jump with Long Island Skydiving Center in honor of my seven-year-anniversary at Lawline, terror was part of the package. I’d made a secret neither of my long-time fear of heights nor my commitment to one day moving past it. The gift gave me license to confront that fear in the most direct way possible.
None of that made things any less debilitating when my instructor and I scooted to the edge of the door and I found myself looking at the vast expanse of eastern Long Island two vertical miles below my feet. Stereotypically, I yearned for the nightmare to end. It didn’t, of course, and how glad I am of that, because five seconds later we’d leapt from the little high-winged Cessna, and without any warning, I was completely at peace.
I didn’t even feel like I was falling. The ground was too far away for me to notice it growing closer, and the air blasting my face just felt like wind. It was as if the two of us were suspended in air, liberated from gravity even as gravity pulled us downward at 120MPH. The experience was far too profound, far too electrifying for fear to intrude, and in any event, there was no way to back out now, and somehow that put me even more at ease.
He deployed the parachute about halfway down, asking me how I was doing. Words failed me. (Surprise surprise.) Later on he let me steer the chute. A strap in each hand, I banked us to the right, having time enough at the end our turn to look up and see my wife’s chute a thousand-odd feet above me, a scratch of rainbow on the clear blue sky. I’d learn later that she was every much in awe as me.
In awe. How else can I put it? I could have spent the rest of my life letting acrophobia keep me grounded in more ways than one. But acrophobia – like fear of failure – was only as strong as my comfort with letting it beat me.
Today I got uncomfortable. I’ll never, ever regret it.