Fifty and free falling

I remember my fiftieth birthday well. It was Friday, September 5, 2008. I had taken the day off work because I had a special celebration planned. I was going skydiving, something I’d never done before, and I was so excited that I had spent the entire night rehearsing the jump in my brain instead of sleeping.  Just as unusual as the skydiving was the fact that my husband was driving me to the airport to watch.  He rarely took off work and seldom spent a day with me, kid free.  In 39 years of marriage, I don’t remember him ever getting a cake for my birthday or planning a home celebration for me.  I feel pretty lucky just to have everybody remember to tell me happy birthday.

I had done a little online research to find somewhere to do a tandem jump. What I came up with was a little airport in Petersburg, Ohio, which was about a three hour drive from our house.  There was a restaurant near there that we liked, Das Dutch Haus, and that was the selling point. The business was called Skydive Rick’s and the name and a phone number was all I knew about it.  It had good reviews and I just left the rest up to God.  When I booked my jump, I was told that they would call that morning to cancel or confirm the appointment.  Jumping would depend on the weather conditions.

Early on the morning of my birthday, we pulled out of the driveway with the top up on our little convertible. The day was cloudy and it looked like rain but we knew that we could easily drive into sunshine and blue skies.  We stopped for gas before getting on the interstate.  We stopped again at McDonald’s so my husband could get a cold drink.  I knew this would lead to a third stop so he could use the bathroom, and I was starting to get antsy.  I just wanted to be there and be done.  I had some concerns that the recessive brave genes I had were trying to hide behind the much more dominant chicken genes. We exhausted all topics of conversation just 30 minutes into the drive and I switched on the radio to an oldies station that we both liked.  I rarely listened to the radio because I can’t stand the repetitive commercials but the silence was allowing too many “what ifs” into my brain.  Singing along to some old songs would help ease my tension.  Two songs into my sing along session, I found myself listening to Tom Petty and Free Fallin’.  I don’t think his song has anything to do with skydiving but I took it as a sign that I was meant to free fall that day. I sighed and relaxed, maybe for the first time since booking my birthday experience.

Less than an hour from the airport, the sun was still not shining. When my phone rang, my heart sank because I knew it was not going to be happy news.  Sure enough, the pilot who was taking us up didn’t know if it would be clear enough to make the jump.  I explained that we were almost there anyway and asked if we could wait and see what happened before we canceled.  He agreed to wait for us to arrive before making the final decision.  I had just hung up the phone when my husband spoke.

“You know you don’t have to do this.”

Of course I knew that! What he didn’t understand was that I wanted to jump.  I tried explaining this to him.  He spoke again.

“We can get something to eat, go home, and I will tell everyone that you jumped. You don’t really have to do it.”

I like to think that he was concerned about me but I suspected he was far more concerned about what to do with four kids if my parachute didn’t open and I went splat. When we pulled into the little airport and parked by the small hangar, I got out of the car.  The pilot introduced himself and told me he had good news.  There was a small window of visibility on the radar and if I suited up now, I could make my jump.  Without time to really think, I watched a 15-20 minute training video, signed away all rights to a lawsuit if death or dismemberment resulted from the jump, and I climbed into a jumpsuit.  I was introduced to the instructor who was doing the tandem jump with me and I’m sorry that I don’t remember his name.  I do remember that he was a much younger, attractive, ex-marine, and I had the passing thought that if I had to die that day, being attached to this man wouldn’t be a bad way to go. Shame on me, I know.  He went over a set of safety instructions with me and then I was buckled and belted and strapped and helmeted and stuffed into the back of a very tiny plane. It was loud and shaky and I think I was more nervous about that short flight than I was of jumping.

There were two young men jumping with us that day and, shortly after we hit the mile high mark, the door of the plane opened and they bailed. It was my turn to sit in the ‘ doorway, feet propped on a bar just outside the door. The sun highlighted the bright colors of the two parachutes below me for just a moment before they were swallowed by distance and the angle of the plane.  I found myself thinking, “What on earth do you think you are doing?”   I was securely attached to the front of the tandem parachute system that my instructor was wearing and I heard him say “On the count of three, roll forward.”  And just like that, we rolled out of that door, and I was actually free falling, hurtling to the earth with the sensation of cold air and warm sunshine on my face, followed by cool mist as we passed through wispy bits of clouds.  I don’t really remember whooping it up but I’m sure I did.  My husband swears he heard me coming.  The thrill of that free fall lasted for less than a minute before the instructor deployed the parachute.  As it whooshed up, we were rocketing down, and when the parachute opened in the air, there was a brief jerk.  From that point on, it was easy sailing.  Slowing down the fall allowed me to look at the scenery, which was a patchwork of farms in beautiful greens and browns and golds.  I got to steer for a bit but all too soon it was time to land.  We leaned back, lifted our legs, and slid into a sandy pit feet first, safe at home plate following one thrilling home run!

My jump was over but the exhilaration stayed with me. During the three hour drive home, all I could think about was how much fun it was to do something different, to experience something new.  I felt alive for the first time in years. I was determined to make the effort to keep that exhilaration in my life. The idea of my “fifty firsts” list began that day and I decided that while I was fifty, I was going to do fifty things I’d never done before.  I expanded that idea to include going fifty new places while I was in my fifties.  Focusing on new ideas, new events, new faces, and new places has taken me a few giant steps beyond what was normal for me and I am so much happier because of it. Ten years later, when I turned sixty, I started over with my “sixty first places and activities” lists. It’s been so much fun that I want to share my experiences. I’d like to take you all on my journey, to help you out of your own personal ruts by sharing my new adventures and encouraging you to do the same.  I’d love to have my blog shared, and I’d love to have suggestions from my readers on new things to try.   I want you all to know that life is better if you can venture just a few steps beyond your normal.

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