Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Laugh Like You Are Dying (Thanks a lot Tim McGraw)

My wife can be a bit of a frugal woman. Maybe frugal isn't the right word perhaps "practical" is a better description. Imagine my surprise when she told me that she was purchasing for my daughter and me a skydiving adventure. My oldest daughter and I have always wanted to make a jump together. What better bonding experience than jumping out of an airplane? Admittedly, during her teen years, I am sure we each envisioned shoving one another through the open fusealge door of a 747, but that is another post for another time.

We were both excited at this gift from this amazing woman. I became even more thrilled when I found out that she would be joining us on this adventure. How cool is that? Very cool, since she has always been the quiet and reserved one who, by the way, is afraid of heights.

I did not experience my wife or daughter's experience. From their accounts, and the video proof, all went according to plan and they loved it. My daughter, Samantha, loved it enough that she wants to do it again. My wife, Deborah, loved it enough that she is content savoring that one-time memory and is happy to not attempt duplicating it.

My experience was a bit different from theirs. First off, the way this worked(we each did a tandem jump) was that we each had a jump instructor who affixed his harness to ours. When doing this type of jump, the instructor has two jobs; ensure that I have a safe and enjoyable experience. Safe! And enjoyable! To protect his identity and prevent any sort of litigation, I shall call his name, Incompetence. Pete for short.

We were walking out to the plane and I couldn't help but notice that he looked as if he had just sucked the sour out of a bowl full of lemons. It was easy to notice this, in contrast to the other jump instructors who were all excited about their jobs, high-fiving one another and exclaiming the oft-heard cliche, "Let's go jump out of a perfectly good airplane!"

I expressed to Pete that it seemed as if something was bothering him. He replied to me that he was just having a bad day. In my mind I was wondering what constitutes a bad day for someone who jumps out of planes for a living. Before I could ask him, he added "I can't wait to END THIS" long pause,"week."

I was really hoping things would get better for him, soon, if you know what I mean. Before I knew it,I found myself on the plane, climbing to 10,000 feet. People often ask me why I got on the plane. And that is a great question. My brain actually attempted to prevent that action, but my adrenaline fueled body overcame my brain. Boy, how often have we let our racing bodies put us into situations that our otherwise logical brains or inner Spirit, were screaming "Stop! Run the other way!"

I looked around the plane's interior and saw the nervous and excited smiles from both wife and daughter as well as the several other jumpers. Each of their jump instructors were busy tugging on their harnesses, giving them last minute instructions, laughing with them, pointing out different sites visible beyond the window.

Not Pete. He just sort of sat behind me. Sitting. Quietly. A little unnerving actually. Just a different personality type I guess. My stomach was knotting up as the door to the outside opened, and people began shuffling to the door. The pit of my stomach was flopping violently as Deborah and Samantha each moved forward, attached to the front of their respective instructors' harness. There really is no word that I could come up with to describe the feeling as two of the people I love most in life, were propelled, however willingly, out of an airplane attached to experienced professionals. Maybe helpless, possibly inferiority. But those are about it. Well, foolish comes to mind.

As people were jumping out of the plane, I heard the shrieks of delight for a nano-second before the velocity pulled them away from the plane. I imagined hearing "Wahoo!" and "Wheee". As Pete and I shuffled toward the opening, I distinctly and clearly heard him say "Oops." As you may imagine, that one word caught my attention. I began going through my mental catalog, recalling the many times I had uttered it, but I couldn't recall even once saying it when something good happened. "Oops! I just found 20 bucks." Or "Oops! I just thought up a great joke." No, "oops" always followed something negative that happened, as in "Oops! I broke the lamp" or "Oops! I forgot my wife's birthday."

I asked Pete to clarify what he meant by that and he replied "Oh, it's no big deal, I just had your harness hooked wrong." Now, had this occurred while on the ground I may not have thought much about it. But, since I was standing 2 feet from the open door, nearly 2-miles high, and looking out, it kind of grabbed my attention.

My imagination suddenly realized why he was having such an awful week. He may have been afraid of getting called into the bosses office one more time. "Jones, this is the third time this month you've been in here. You have already dropped two this year. If you come back alone again, we're going to have to let you go."

My brain and my mouth finally synced up and I told him that I had changed my mind about jumping. I will just go back down with the pilot. I followed up my statement with a quick question: "Why is the plane leaving without me?" as it dawned on me that the instructor had launched us out of the plane while I was formulating my instructions about cancelling my "adventure."

I quickly prayed, because that's what I do, "God, please don't let me die, with this idiot on my back!" Suddenly a movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. The shoulder strap on my harness was flapping in the wind. I grabbed it while simultaneously congratulating God on his most excellent sense of humor.

So there I was, falling from 10,000 feet above the Earth. It was all out of my hands at that point. I could do nothing but fall and hope that my fellow falling family members were enjoying themselves at least as much as I was. Hopefully more. Pretty soon my fear was replaced with adrenaline. The endorphines were kicking in and this was suddenly becoming fun.

The wind whipping my face, the green and brown quilted earth below, and the beautiful blue sky dotted with puffs of clouds. This was fantastic and worth it all. Then I felt the pull of the canopy being released, followed by the exclamation by Pete that they had given him a bad parachute.

That's right, his week just got worse. Hard to believe, I know. I immediately found lots of empathy for Pete. It was almost as if they had given ME a bad parachute, too. I prayed again, "God, please forgive me for calling Pete an idiot. I am hoping you kind of see my side on that one. But even if you do, I was wrong and I know it."

I don't know exactly what was wrong with the parachute except that he let me know that the landing was going to "be a little less than comfortable." I did that math really quick in my head, which is weird because I am lousy with numbers. "Approximately 10,000 feet divided by 32 feet per second, times 'a little less than comfortable' equals" this is not going to end well.

Well, here I am, a year later, writing about it so you can relax, it all turned out fine. We came in for a fast landing, he on his feet and me sliding along on my butt. Ecstatic that I was down and elated that my family was there waiting for me.

I learned two very valuable lessons that day. The first was the easiest, which was, discount skydiving is a bad idea. The phrase you get what you pay for becomes abundantly clear in the world of extreme recreational sports.

The second was a bit more complex but way more important. That lesson was summed up best in two words: life happens. Sure we have all heard it, but like me, I'm sure most people need a reminder now and then.

Maybe we have found ourselves in an unfortunate situation because of our poor choices or have allowed our own indecision and apathy to dictate our currently mediocre lifestyle. Possibly, we were put into situations caused by someone else who was having a bad day or a bad life, making bad, careless, hateful or hurtful decisions. Life happens.

But as long as we are breathing we have choices to make. Are we going to allow lifes circumstances to rule over us, causing us to beleive that we are to simply exist in the context of those circumstances? Are we going to be blown about by the whims of others or pushed into a life of constant struggle and mediocrity?

Or, are we going to be conquerors of this life, or as it is written in the good old King James, "more than conquerors"? Are we going to let life control us, or are we going to choose to believe that we have a say in how this life turns out?

I have to admit that I did not see a whole lot of funny in the 10 minute adventure that I have just described. But you better believe that on the way home, I had jokes and my family had laughs. We have a shared memory that nobody can ever take away from us. This confirmed for me that a shared experience, no matter how good, is magnified when we are around those who love us (and somebody always loves us.) And a shared experience, no matter how awful, can be weathered when a little time and distance are added, a bit of humor is sought and a lot of love is present.

It is no lie that life in this world can be cruel and I know my skydiving experience was just a small and humorous illustration of the point I am making. It is my personal belief that the surest ways to achieve a level of living that is in any way close to what God has for us, is to include Him in the journey, find every opportunity to laugh that we can, look for excuses to smile and expect joy.

Did I mention that I am anticipating making another jump? You don't think I would allow one "less than comfortable" experience ruin things for me, do you?

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