Unfortunately it was incontestably a sensible fear.
I jumped out of a plane.
Why did I do this? I don't identify as a "risk-seeker".
I did it for the adventure. I did it because I only have one life, and I want to see every possible perspective, feel every possible feeling.
It's a long held secret, but the line for the Tower of Terror in Disney World may be the most paralyzing fear I've experienced. They explain, going into it, that it rides like any other ride - and then pulls the ground out from under you while you're blissfully unaware. Like the tension that builds at a thriller film all the worse for knowing what to expect, the knowledge that at any moment, without warning, my foundation would capitulate had my stomach on the floor for the entire walk to the galley. But I had the advantage of my age; I could remain inconspicuous if I kept quiet, since the adults stood several heads above me. So I sealed my lips to avoid betraying any quiver, schooled my expression, and concentrated on walking with boneless legs.
I could only imagine how thoroughly I would relive this drama if ever I pursued a stunt as insane as leaping out of a plane. I presumed, rather, that it would be infinitely worse. That I would approach the date in agonies of anxiety, that the ascent would be an eternity of torment - the likes of which were heretofore unknown to me, that the moment of truth would be the pinnacle of excruciating.
But I wanted to do it.
I wanted to reaffirm that I am not one to let myself be controlled by fear. Although it was warranted. What's more sensible than your brain forbidding you to jump from a plane? My very genes were offended at the blatant disregard for survival.
But you always wonder how you'll respond in an emergency. What happens when the time comes that you need to do the impossible? Something your brain can not logically accept? Despite all the bravado and noble intentions, you may never know. Would you run? Shrink back? Shut down? I hope never to find out. But this is a way of testing fortitude within relative safety. Of doing something you thought you could not do.
And it is a way to see things that some people will never see. To know what some will never know. It is a chance that is only available to us through the miracle of invention; an opportunity that our ancestors could only imagine - as we fantasize about space flight in the future. From that perspective, it seems downright negligent not to embrace an experience only afforded me by the sheer chance of my orientation along the timeline.
As the plane ascended, I kept thinking back to my childhood. As we once wound along the mountainside in our car I would gaze into the valley below still believing that maybe it was possible to fly through sheer audacity; the determined suspension of doubt.
Today, I would finally take that leap.
The ticket was a birthday gift, so I had two and a half months to prepare myself. The waver in my stomach came not in waves but ripples, at random, when I allowed my thoughts to drift that direction. I anticipated this to worsen in frequency and severity as the date approached, and for a while that expectation threatened to substantiate. As March wound down, the indistinguishable future became the undeniable present.
But a couple of weeks before D Day I was together with my brother, who had done this before. To my surprise, he did not hint at even a fraction of anxiety. I could not detect a note of forced calm. When pressed, he would earnestly admit to being more anxious strapped aboard a commercial jetliner than leaping out of the sky. With this, my apprehension all but evaporated.
In fact, I may have robbed myself. I managed to achieve such a level of calm that my adrenalin was reduced proportionately. I had a momentary thrill of trepidation as I stepped onto the ladder entering the plane, and of course as I approached the exit of the aircraft at 10,000ft. But there was no time for hesitation, and as soon as you were in freefall it was - oddly - impossible not to be strictly euphoric. That a clearly land-dwelling mammal with no innate capacity for flight should feel anything but sick in sheer freefall is entirely peculiar. And yet, nothing can describe it but unadulterated elation. Literally, dreams coming true.
As we tipped out of the plane, there was no sense of an impending impact. The ground was like a soft watercolor landscape taking up an inconsequential fraction of the sky. It felt like I had fallen into nothing; that I was untethered from physical reality, adrift in empty space.
Slowly, the ground clarified beneath me, taking on more detail. It began to appear to me like a map, and I the satellite through which I usually receive the image. But my arms were flung wide over it, and it stretched as far as I could see beneath my palms. The sensation was surreal. It felt virtual. Was I really here, floating in space, staring down at earth with my own eyes?
I raised my line of sight to sweep the horizon, but beautiful though it was, it was a conventional horizon; always away in the distance. The ground captivated me, as this was a view I might never have known, and might not again duplicate. It was like the most breathtaking aerial filmography, but there was no interface to dislocate me from the reality. I was really flying - or falling like an angel - toward earth.
My partner released the chute, and all at once the sound of air rushing over my ears ceased, my momentum halted. I was vertical again, floating above the Earth. A moment of disappointment quickly gave way to awe. The silence was penetrating. I was drifting through the sky as idly as a dandelion seed. The peace that pervaded me was unrivaled. It was as if I were in a separate dimension entirely reserved to myself. I could see the other parachutes sailing at a distance, and I was coming level with the crests of rolling hills, but the world was apart; no sound of human, animal or machine were detectable. It was perfect solitude in a dreamscape of drifting scenery.
Slowly, but too soon, civilization solidified into an ant farm of discernible activity. And then, with no barrier between me but open air, I experienced the distinct sensation that I was actually standing upright on a set of Hollywood miniatures. The proportions easily convinced my brain that, had I only reached out, I might have pinched a car between two fingers. Or crushed a building beneath my shoe with a careless step.
But I was prevented the opportunity. The homesteads gave way to wide, empty fields in the gully between green hills. My partner instructed me to lift my legs for the landing, and we cradled to Earth like a feather on the breeze. From nearly two miles in orbit, I landed, like a cat, on my feet.