I’ve been skydiving once. I have a clear recollection of that day and how I continued to process what was happening. The weight of what I had committed to settled in as I drove deeper into endless plots of corn and soybeans. On that drive I realized I didn’t know the name of the skydiving company and had done research vetting reliability. It then registered that our entire friend group was somehow content that the entire day was planned by our most reckless friend. Upon arrival, we pulled up to an open field with a row of air hangers. One served as the “office” – which was made clear as it was filled with jet skis, recreation equipment, and a some pool toys. Then the staff informed us that the plane size meant we would be jumping one at a time. All of that culminated in a constant hum eager dread – which manifested as laughing with everyone that this would be the last thing we do.
Our plane for the day was a small propeller plane that at one time probably sat 4-5 people comfortably (including pilots). It had been elegantly remodeled by ripping out everything but the pilot seats. Being ready to take off meant the plane had the pilot, myself, the tandem instructor I was jumping with, a camera person, and one extra skydiving team member who was hitching a ride to squeeze in certification hours. When the plane left the runway, that eager dread and nervous laughter intensified. I assumed I was now on my final flight – with the added comfort of being surrounded by strangers.
Examples of moments that made me question every decision that had led me to that day? The rattling of a tiny plane that had distinct signs of a rich and full life. The endless looping pattern we flew over makeshift airstrip to get to altitude. Watching the extra jumper hop out halfway up at five thousand feet – truly this was my Job Bluth moment.
As I sit unharnessed, we finish our climb to jumping altitude and I get into position with the tandem next to the door. After some very awkward positioning and harness prep with portly stranger turned guardian, we wobble as one over to the open door. The wind speed was jarring. The crashing energy of the wind simultaneously deafened my ears, and carried my legs to the right like wet noodles.
That moment sitting in the door was an affront to thousands of years of survival instincts. All internal alert mechanisms were in overdrive. And then my tandem instructor catapulted us back toward the Earth. Once we stabilized, the feeling of dread switch to peacefulness and elation. To stillness. Towering above wind turbines, looking at the topography below, and seeing the curve of the horizon – I saw it all. And in that moment, I had let go. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to. Everything was out of my control. So I didn’t scream (shockingly), I didn’t black out. I genuinely just smiled and looked around, accepting that I was probably going to be just fine, but I might not be. And both were ok. They had to be.
Life is a freefall. Whether you measure from when you’re born, or from when you really think you started living life on your own, it’s a freefall without a parachute. 50 years or 100, we all must hit the ground. And within that realization, there is immense value in contemplating our own mortality. In recognizing that it is not an abstract concept, but a reality that we will face regardless of how we feel about it. Within reason, we should guide our lives accordingly.
“All those things I ever, thought would never end, to think they’re now all memories, sends me ’round the bend”
The day to day struggle of existing carries weight, especially as we try to create meaning for ourselves. The challenges we face vary greatly in size and frequency, but can carry such a force that they feel eternal. Only as we look back can we appreciate their insignificance. Even good memories can have their own burden – we don’t know we are living in the good times until they’ve already gone by. From trips we wished lasted longer, to frustrating projects we wish ended sooner, to albums we wish we could hear for the first time again – good and bad are tethered by the retroactive realization that is passing us by and eluding our grasp. And that’s what truly hits the hardest. Every time.
Feelings of existential dread or even simple uncertainty can quickly be suffocating. But in the relative insignificance our lives pose, we are free. There is more room to take risks and try things we may otherwise shy away from due to fears of disrupting the status quo on or expectations that surround us. We can begin to be untethered to rules and expectations. We can create some space to be whoever we want to.
We all hit the ground. And no one really knows what happens when the lights go out, but we have this moment here. This life is like a tiny droplet that has been cast out of the crest of a wave in the cosmic ocean, sent hurtling across the universe to experience a shimmer of freedom on Earth. I think in that experience we should earnestly work to live a life that we are proud of. To live a life we choose. To be happy, be better, and to be free. Then when it finally happens, we can peacefully rejoin our place as a droplet in the cosmic ocean.
See you tomorrow.
Inspirations: Mortality, Stoicism, Tame Impala
Quote: Tame Impala