There is something supremely satisfying about stepping out of one’s comfort zone and doing what is entirely out of character. It is exciting and very empowering to do something the subject of which has always stirred in one a consequential frisson of nervous palpitations.
I’m not into extreme sport. In truth, I’m not really into sport full stop. I enjoy Wimbledon. The Olympics is obligatory and I watch football world cups, but only when the tournament is fought on South African soil. Luckily my partner is a bookish man of intellectual pursuits, so I don’t have to suffer those boring little games on television every weekend. Chiefs vs. Pirates again and again! I can’t. Although, I will admit to having a healthy appreciation for all that potent display of masculine virility.
When one of my girlfriends decided that for her birthday she wanted the thrill of jumping out of an aeroplane that’s flying at terrorizing speed thousands of feet above the earth, and asked me if I would join her, naturally I said
“Of course not”.
I offered to hold her glass of champagne while she risked life, limb and sanity. I refused to even be persuaded. I closed the subject down. Jump out of an aeroplane? Why would I do that? I could not for the life of me come up with a single reason for jumping out of an aeroplane. No!
I know that it is popular practice for other people to sky dive but, honestly, this is an activity so far removed from my life that it has never occurred to me that I would ever do it. The subject simply isn’t part of my consciousness; therefore it never came up, until now. Now that it had come up, however, every cell and sinew in my body screamed “Are you mad? Never”!
When one is vehemently opposed to something; when the thought of walking barefoot over sharp shards of glass seems infinitely preferable to the offered activity, one must ask oneself why one is so vehemently opposed, I think. One might find that the answer to the ‘Why’ is a silly answer. Or equally, one might find that one is very happy with the answer. Fear came immediately to mind. Oh my goodness. Was that really it? I’m scared? But people survive this sky diving thing. How scary can it be? But fear is not a thing to give in to. Fear is a thing to conquer.
I started to come over all G I Jane and Wonder Woman. Some ‘thing’ in me that I didn’t recognise decided that fear was a shameful reason to refuse. What was the worst thing that could happen? Perhaps the parachute would not open and I would plunge thousands of feet to my death – a romantically dramatic way to go. But I didn’t for a moment believe that would happen. I broached the subject friends and each one had a sky diving horror story to tell. It’s weird how people love to tell tales of doom. I heard about the guy who plunged hundreds of feet to what should have been his death, broke every bone in his body, but lived to tell the tale. I heard about the guy who was rescued mid air by fellow dare devils who saw just in time his impending demise. I heard about the guy who got caught up in his parachute and ended up being strangled by a rope or string or something on the way down. I heard all the extraordinary anecdotes.
All this telling of disaster came down to one thing. It all came down to the provocation of one of the most ignoble of sentiments – extreme terror. But should I give in to terror? Terror seems like a thing that one can with honour and without shame give in to. I thought so. But something in me that I didn’t recognise asked me if I should not face it, confront it and tell it that it’s name may be Terror, but my name is Tambo and we’re gonna fight it out. After a glass or two of bubbly and a long hot bubble bath I made a choice. I chose that I would jump, and as Ruth in the Bible so eloquently put it, ‘If I perish, I perish!’
We would free fall for forty seconds and then we would pull the shoot, my tandem instructor, who has jumped seven thousand times, informed me as I sat apprehensively in the plane waiting for the instruction to jump, all the while questioning my good sense.
To fall from that aeroplane and to be totally exposed to the air was terrifying. However, once I made peace with the fact that I was there and I was alive and I wasn’t dying the experience turned into one of absolute freedom. To free fall for those forty seconds was to feel inexplicably cradled and safe. I felt as though I was floating on the breath of The Almighty. My lungs became so full of pure clean air that for a moment I thought I would burst. The air filled me beyond my lungs’ capacity and I don’t know when I have felt more energized. I danced in the air as I fell. It was invigorating.
When the shoot was finally pulled we were lifted. Well, actually, we just slowed down really fast, so it felt as though we were lifted, and the lifting was superlative. We flowed through the atmosphere. I felt as though we belonged there. I felt as though we were accepted and embraced and welcomed and cradled and loved by God. It was the feeling of God. It was most unexpected. It was divine in the truest sense. I felt completely at peace. My tandem instructor wanted to talk, but I had to demand silence. How do you hold a conversation up here where all is peace and quiet and freedom and total solitude except for the dude on your back? He must pretend he’s not there. Really!
It was a beautiful and life enhancing experience. Was it not Shakespeare who wrote ‘There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy?’ I know that he wasn’t talking about sky diving, but the insight fits.
“Hell NO! But it was lovely. Thank you. I’m satisfied”.