It all began as I was sitting on that Spin bike … this time a participant instead of the instructor … I carry that proverbial weight on my shoulders and realize that my tank of inner angst has reached full capacity.
Dark goes the room. Pitch black to match the pitch of blackness I am positive is oozing from my pores.
No one can see me which means I can be invisible. I am surrounded by only a handful of people I recognize.
So many that I once knew have moved on, whether to another gym, another state or another set of circumstances. They are not unlike me … I’ve moved on too. Another gym in another state under a whole different set of circumstances. Hence the angst.
It feels good to be sitting here, in the dark, connected yet equally invisible to these people and this place.
The black lights come on and like a psychedelic dance floor all the white garments in the room begin to reflect off each other, swirling with energy. The instructor is a former student of mine and I’m proud to see her taking charge. I know for certain that our taste in music is the same … the hardcore, drive-out-the-demons-in-your-head kind of rhythm, beat and lyrics that bring out the best of me when I exercise. It’s go time. I crank up the gear, feeling my quads, hams and glutes engage as I reach into the toxic places in my heart, being ready to leave those toxins in a puddle on the floor around my bike. The Lake of Michele is what I use to call it.
And then she does it. She drops a sentence that exits her mouth, flies across the room, dodging the swirling energy of the white reflections, and lands full of fury in my brain and heart.
“I’m jumping out of an airplane tomorrow”, she says almost matter-of-factly.
And then she continues to speak about it, but this is what I hear:
“I’m part of a blah blah blah out in Zephyrhills at Sky Dive City where we blah blah blah and jump, working on my blah blah free fall blah blah blah exhilarating, blah, blah, scary but fun. Anyone can blah blah blah join me.”
Oh no you don’t. My somewhat logical brain is talking to my very much illogical heart. Absolutely not. You are deathly afraid of heights, for one. You could die, for two. You’ve adamantly refused any such notion in the past, for three. There are many other ways to “feel alive”, for four. And there’s sundry scenarios that can assist you in getting past your current difficulties … jumping out of a perfectly safe airplane does not need to be one of them!
However, there and then, while pedaling myself to nowhere in particular, my heart won. “Join me” — I kept hearing those two little words. “Join me“. Not a question but an imperative statement. YOU, (Michele) MUST JOIN ME. My heart did a victory dance in front of my brain who was sitting in the corner sulking in defeat.
I show up the next day completely in disbelief at what I am about to do. I had recruited one other person. Not sure why.
Maybe I considered the fact that if death did, in fact, occur there would be people who witnessed it and could live to tell. Possibly I wouldn’t die alone … we’d all die together. Perhaps it was the competitor in me who said, “If she can do this, certainly you can do this.”
And so there we were. Arriving 3 deep … the spin instructor, me and my friend … we sign our lives away on a stack of forms, were assigned our tandem instructors, suit up, practice our sky diving arches and wait with sweaty palms and racing hearts as the plane arrives.
Scared is too light a word to describe my walk to the plane. Although I do not know what a walk of death really feels like, the current of fear mixed with adrenaline along with my elevated heart rate allow me to have a vivid sense of what a walk of death could feel like. Nothing about this venture puts me at ease.
There are plenty reasons why I shouldn’t jump. It was on a whim that I made the decision, without so much as a lick of research so as not to destroy the little ounce of courage I had inside. Whim decisions rarely put anyone at ease. Jumping at 13, 500 feet (let’s be honest, jumping from 20 feet would’ve been enough) exceeds any standard I have in relation to one of my biggest fears in life, the fear of heights. Acrophobia, for the word nerds out there, like me. I value the people who had accompanied me, so why would I want to be falling from the sky with them at a terminal velocity that could create quite a “splat factor” if anything goes awry?
Somehow I walk, of my own free will, to the plane despite the gut-check panic and sheer terror I feel. The plane itself is reason enough to run away and forget this craziness … it creaks and groans, rattles and shakes as it carries a sardined group of about 20 people to their jumping point in the sky. Everything in me screams with profound panic at what I am about to do.
The 3 of us, basically sitting in the laps of our tandem instructors, try to make small talk while the plane climbs like a bird with a broken wing to 13, 500 ft above the soft, safe, grassy turf of Earth. Looking out the window, I could see the curve of the earth. Holy crap! I feel like I am close to outer space. I mean, seriously, the EARTH’S CURVE is staring at me, eye to eye. We still have time to decline, back out, quit, call it a good enough day without ever leaving the airplane.
The solo flyers jump first … full of maddening excitement and without any evidence of fear. They do somersaults at the open door, shrieking with utter joy as they plummet to the earth. And then come the tandems … crab crawling towards the door one after the other.
We were the first on the plane, the last to jump. I’m not sure if being last and watching everyone else empty the plane before me is a good or a bad thing in reference to my pounding heart and my sudden inability to breathe. I watch my friend shuffle with her tandem partner to the door. She looks horrified. And suddenly she’s gone. Poof! She disappears over the edge of the open doorway into the vast blue sky, falling, falling, falling. What have we done??
And before I know it, Bill, my tandem instructor, is yelling in my ear (over the thunderous roar of the airplane’s propeller) that we are next. Crawling and shuffling, awkwardly we make it to the gaping mouth of the plane. Oh no. No, No, No. My eyes are wide. I can’t breathe. We are wayyyy too far off the ground. No, No, No. I’m hanging onto the bar above my head, white knuckling it, I’m sure.
“Let go”, he says. Let go. Let go. Let go. There’s something that rings very true inside my spirit when he says those words. And I know for certain that those 2 words will mean more to me on a metaphoric level later than they do on an actual physical level right this very moment. And so I do. In trust, yet still racked with horror …
I. Let. Go.
3 …. 2 …. 1 ….
The plane is suddenly above me as we flip upside down. Bill intended for me to see that perfectly safe airplane clearly and wave goodbye to it, wave goodbye to my sense of reason, wave goodbye to the face of fear.
I am surprised to see it getting smaller as we flip a couple times before the true free fall begins. We are belly down now, the curve of the earth beautifully visible straight ahead and the rush of air in my face. It is silent except for the air.
I am reminded of a quote by Rumi,
“This silence. This moment, EVERY moment, if it’s genuinely inside you, brings what you need. Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.”
I’m not falling at all, am I? It doesn’t feel like I am. Oh the exhilaration! It’s beautiful up here! And wait … I’m not afraid anymore. I’m ecstatic. I actually let go. I jumped. I did it! I did it for me. I wasn’t coerced or convinced. I CHOSE to jump and never in a million years would I have thought this was something I’d choose, in my right mind or in my not-so-right mind.
I can’t get enough of what I am seeing and feeling. I am FREE. There are no inhibitions in this moment of free fall. And what a grouping of words to describe what is happening: FREE FALL. Free from fear. Free from confinement. Free from sadness. Free from the half-life I am living. Falling away from security and what I believe to be safety. Falling upside down, tossed about and doing so of my own volition. Falling dangerously but without a care in the world. Falling alongside only a few in life who were willing to take the plunge as well. Falling with the biggest smile on my face! FREE. FALL.
There’s a saying, “Do something every day that scares you!” Why? What is the purpose of such an action? I believe when you live in fear (fear of change, fear of being lonely, fear of vulnerability with others, fear of tangible things and intangible things), you create a cage around your heart. Life begins to get smaller and smaller as you back yourself into your corner of apparent safety. For me, fears in life made their impression on me at a very young age.
Most of those fears are intangible, emotional kinds of fears. Some, like acrophobia, are more tangible. I realize I have lived to date under my own allegiance to fear, thereby enabling it to grow more and more powerful. Fear’s growth created the inner angst that I began to carry on my back, everywhere I went, until I found myself immobilized.
“Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Don’t worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?” ~Rumi
Why did I jump from a perfectly safe airplane? Because my life depended on it.
I needed to stand up tall, put on my big girl panties and face myself. Jumping became the impetus for change. It was the turning point that planted the seeds of new-found courage that prompted me to reach inside of myself, wrestle down the woman of fear and sadness who had kept me in a cage all these years, tear open up my heart and mind and freely fall into the twists and turns of life, despite the occasional thumping of my heartbeat and the inability to breathe.
I needed to discontinue holding onto comfort, looking over my shoulder at the past where I thought I was comfortable and safe. I needed the wind to blow in my life. Blow NEW life into my lungs, new courage to face change or loss or sadness or heartbreak without crumbling into a heap of fear on the floor. I needed to jump from great heights in order to gain a new perspective.
I needed to jump so that I could see the beautiful curves of this life and allow them to look at me eye to eye. Letting go, jumping, flipping over, watching my safety net get smaller and smaller prepared me to face other obstacles in life where I’d have to make a choice to do something that scares me to my core.
I needed to jump from a perfectly safe airplane. My life, my heart, my soul depended on it, and if given the chance, I’d jump again!