on fear.

me, freefalling
by my cousin Molly

My little brother, Jake, is afraid of heights.  Like, really afraid.  When Alex and I lived in Colorado, we climbed Gothic Mountain with him.  Three quarters of the way to the top Jake was nervously sweating, his face had gone white, and then he starting crawling on all fours because he couldn’t bear looking down.  In all my time living in the mountains, I had never seen anyone react like that to heights.

Last week, when my whole family was at my parents’ home for our annual summer vacation, Jake decided that he was going to voluntarily jump out of a plane at 14,000 feet.  He had been thinking about it all summer.  Now who was with him?  Alex was a yes.  So was my cousin Brendan.  My brother-in-law, Steve, was interested, but his kids were having a “need their daddy” kind of day.  They needed a fourth.  Three faces filled with a particular mixture of thrill and fear turned to look at me.  Honora?

I spent the next few hours thinking.  About myself, about fear.  About how I already know from my years in the backcountry that I am not an adrenaline junkie.  I thought and thought.  About how I’m about to turn thirty and feel like I’m in an emotional rut.  About how life doesn’t turn out how you think it will.  About how lately I’ve felt like I’ve stopped being the protagonist in the novel that is my own life.  About how typically writerish of me it was to think that jumping out of a plane could be a spiritual experience.  Who was I trying to be, anyway?

And then a funny thing happened.  Just as I was about to tell the guys no, sorry, I’m not coming with you, my mouth opened and it said yes. 

I would be lying if I said that jumping into terminal velocity wasn’t f*&king terrifying.  It’s nearly impossible to describe the sensation of going from 0 to 120 miles per hour in seconds.  There is so much less gravity at 14,000 feet, the air is cold and thin, and I barely could tell which was up and which was down.  All I knew was that I had just voluntarily launched myself out of a moving aircraft and now I felt like I was going to die.  I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t open my eyes, and my stomach felt like it had been left on the plane. 

And then I did what I always try to do when I’m scared or in pain: I remembered to try and breathe.  A big, juicy, freezing gulp of thin air.  I remembered the position I was supposed to put my legs and arms in, remembered that I was strapped to my nice Brazilian instructor, and I looked down.  There was my house!  There was my backyard and my Dad’s boat and our little beach.  There was my favorite running route.  There was the pond where I learned how to swim.  There was the lighthouse, there was Monomoy, there was the new ocean cut.  There was the airport, there was Alex below me landing to safety, there was my family, hands waving and cheering!  There was my Mom, nervous and frightened and happy to see her children doing such amazing things.  There was everyone and every thing that I loved.

Since that day I’ve had moments where I haven’t felt so hot.  I’ve closed my eyes and remembered that feeling of fear -- the air rushing by me, my arms spread wide, my body falling openly, freely, looking down at the world below and just how magnificent it all really is.


Alex Kerr said...

Your description does it justice. There's so much beauty in the fall. And also the landing.

Emblem Parade said...

I did something very similar, for similar reasons -- paragliding over the Sea of Galilee. You put my feelings down right!