65: Oh Chute

65: Oh Chute

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

Oh Chute

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.

~Eleanor Roosevelt

“Oh God, please don’t let my kids see their mother go ‘splat,’” I prayed, as I signed the waiver to release responsibility from the instructor, the pilot and the airstrip.

My co-worker Carly turned to me. “You know, we thought you might chicken out.”

“Couldn’t. Didn’t rain, so I thought I should go ahead with this.”

“Your fear of heights won’t get in the way?”

“Nope.” Yeah, that sounded confident.

Divorce, a forced job change, and moving in with family made me believe that my life was one big failure. And failure caused me to be fearful. Fearful to trust. Fearful to live.

Except where my children — my life’s joy — were concerned. They inspired me to keep striving.

My teenagers, Toni and Andy, sat with me as I viewed a video on what to expect when skydiving, listened to an instructor, and walked through a dry run.

“Mom, can we ride in the plane?” Andy, my adventurous fourteen-year-old son, wanted to share in the glory. “Look, we can wear parachutes, too.” He pointed to a sign that showed the rules and the rates for non-skydiving passengers.

I looked at my sixteen-year-old daughter Toni. “I don’t want to jump out, Mom.” She waved her hands in front of her like “no way.”

John, my instructor, walked up, “Can’t. Not legal.” He turned to me. “They have to be at least eighteen to jump. But they can ride along in the video plane.”

Andy jumped up and down a little. “Please, Mom? Please, please, please?”

How could I say no to an adventure for him when I planned to skydive? I didn’t want the kids to learn fear, too.

Before the plane took off, John hooked his harness to mine. “I want to show you how strong these harnesses are.” He placed his hands on the plane’s open door frame. “Now, lift up your feet.”

I resisted.

“Either trust me, or you can’t go up.”

I obeyed. True enough, I dangled.

“You need to trust that the harnesses will hold down here, before you trust them up there.” He jerked his thumb up.

Plus, he had the parachute.

I looked out the small window as we climbed to ten thousand feet and thought about how pessimistic I had become after so many setbacks. Losing my parents. Losing my marriage. Losing my job. Losing my house.

“I can’t give up now. I’ve got to show Toni and Andy that when life goes wrong, you can choose to make it go right.” I wiped my sweaty palms on my jumpsuit. “I must conquer my fear.”

The Cessna’s engine roared and my focus turned back to the skydiving. I looked around the inside of the small plane. Old green shag carpeting covered the floor. Another instructor with his charge sat close to the wide passenger side door. I sat behind the only chair in the plane, the pilot’s. John, my instructor, sat facing me. We didn’t talk due to the engine’s loud rumble.

So, I whispered a thankful prayer. “God, I can’t believe I’m doing this.”

A minute later, the wide-mouth door opened, and wind gushed in. I shouted in my head a panic prayer: GOD, I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M DOING THIS!

The first team left without ceremony.

“Do you still want to do this?” John shouted over the engine’s noise. Maybe he saw panic on my face. Maybe my face was pale.

To be honest, I did feel queasy.

My voice failed me, so I nodded vigorously. I put on my helmet and pulled the goggles over my eyes.

I then kneeled so John could hook up to me at the shoulders and hips. We then moved in tandem, on our knees, to the door.

“Oh my gosh, I see nothing but sky — don’t panic now.” I sucked in air and went swimmy-headed. “I can’t quit now.”

John motioned to put my hands next to his on the door’s frame. After placing his left hand and foot on the plane’s wing structure, he motioned me to follow his movements. Auto-obedience kicked in.

He motioned for me to pull my knees to my chest. Next, he wrapped his arms and legs around me.

I didn’t see what happened next, because I had my eyes closed.

Then I thought about how I had saved for three months to pay for this adventure. I wasn’t going to experience it blind. I opened my eyes and saw the plane fly overhead, then sky, and at last earth, as we rotated to be in the correct position. My arms and legs waved in the air as John released me from his grip.

In mere seconds John and I freefell 120 miles per hour. I could only hear wind roar past my ears. Ah, the freedom. While gravity pulled us to earth, I did not have the lose-your-stomach feeling.

John tapped my hand, signaling me to pull my arms in again. When I secured myself, he released the parachute.

The jerk of suddenly going from 120 to 80 miles per hour pulled hard on my harness. I had harness pain in places I care not to share.

However, peace replaced the pain in seconds.

I saw our plane fly silently far around us. There was no sound from the cars on the small freeway nearby. A bird flew past. The only noise was from the air filling the rectangular parachute’s bafflers.

No other noise. Save for my heartbeat pounding in my ears. I could see the curve of the horizon. The air smelled sweet.

“So, what do you think of skydiving now?” John asked.

I couldn’t speak. Overwhelmed by the total freedom and beauty in creation, I held up both thumbs.

He took my hands and placed them on the parachute handles. I pulled the right handle, we spiraled down right. Then spiraled left.

John’s voice startled me out of my revelry. “Nancy, get ready to pull your feet up.” His hands replaced mine on the handles. “Now, as I pull, lift your feet until I’ve landed.”

I nodded. But then I jutted my feet out prematurely and knocked John off his perfect landing course. We went rolling in the mud. The parachute’s cords tangled. We were muddied.

Toni and Andy reached us first and doubled over with laughter when we stood up with no injuries. My co-workers soon joined in with finger-pointing and good-natured ribbing.

I didn’t die in a plane crash. I didn’t go “splat.” I didn’t die of embarrassment. I didn’t even wet myself.

In less than five minutes, I found courage and hope.

Even with a crash landing.

~Nancy Lombard Burall

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