"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sky Diving

My friend Patty related the story of her Turning Sixty sky diving adventure at the party celebrating that milestone birthday.  She is an accomplished story teller whose expression of her life, whether it's traveling down the Amazon, or marching in a parade in an umbrella drill team, or learning to scuba dive, never fails to entertain and enlighten her audience. 

Her response to the opening question, "Was it everything you wanted it to be?" surprised me.

"I was disappointed. I wasn't afraid, and I wanted to be. There wasn't any fear at all."

Which didn't make sense. I've traveled with Patty. We've worked together. We've shared life stories, life experiences and life dreams. The Patty I know is fearless. And I could not imagine why anyone, Patty in particular,  would want to experience fear.

When asked to elaborate, she launched into the story of the event itself, effectively avoiding the question. The fact that she wore regular clothes - black capris and tennis shoes. The funny hat she had to tuck her California blonde hair into. The racy fun of being asked to scootch back into the twenty-something man who was her tandem partner, and being told by him that he would be reaching around the front of her to adjust straps. The surprising noise and strength of the wind blowing into the plane through the open door.

Patty described the instructor's directions to her about where to put her thumbs, when to arch her body, what to do with her head, and her movements mirrored those instructions as though she were practicing. 

Her french-tipped nails danced nervously around her face as she said, "I asked him if he'd be repeating the steps if I forgot. I told him I might not be able to remember everything. He told me not to worry about it, but I was so afraid of doing the wrong thing, of not being a good student, that I don't remember much of anything he said after that. The next thing I knew, my feet were hanging outside the plane, and then we were falling."

I only half-heard the rest of her story because I was stopped cold by her expression of fear. 

My brilliant, brave, adventurous friend - not afraid of dying or falling or turning sixty, but afraid she might not do the right thing.  Not able to fully feel the exhilarating, life-affirming satisfaction of facing a primal fear because of the nasty shame-slimed good-girl fear of being wrong.

Wine and laughter flowed freely while Patty told this story. Everyone howled at her description and demonstration of the wind pushing up into her nose like water during a dive. The women all felt her pain as the harness pulled into her boobs when the chute snapped open.  I was still pondering her fear. I could not rely on alcohol to disguise the ugliness of this particular insidious gremlin. The laughter did little to soften its true colors. And no one else seemed to notice the significance I was giving her fairly off-hand statement.  A significance that may have much more to do with my own life right now than Patty's.

photo from Flickr


Jessica said...

Interesting post. I loved skydiving! And was a little afraid at first, but then, oh man, it was so, so incredible! I'm glad she went and would be interested in knowing why she wasn't afraid.
You told this in a great way. :-)

Midlife Jobhunter said...

"A significance that may have much more to do with my own life right now than Patty's."

Yeah, don't you hate that? I find I have this feeling much too often.

And skydiving? I never wanted to do it because I figured nothing else would ever excite me, again.

A post to ponder - thanks.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Having just met Patty, this story is that much more fascinating! I agree with that last line, btw.

Amber said...

Oh, I sooo get that. I bet those would have been the words that struck me, as well. They are huge, really. And we need to get over it!

Great post.


kario said...

You know, I came home from vacation last night and for some reason, chose not to read this post until today.

Ten minutes before I sat down to read it, I was talking myself down from a mini panic attack because I was afraid of looking silly or not doing things the right way this afternoon. Whew. I can still feel the pounding of my breath, the prickles of anxiety in my belly and temples, and I just know that I needed to read this now and ponder it today.

Thank you? ;-)

Elenka said...

I know someone that recently sky-dove. She was disappointed because it went so fast.

The Unbreakable Child said...

(((Deb))) happy and safe 4th to you!

Nancy said...

You have an amazing gift of insight and the words to share it.

Kathryn Magendie said...

This is SUCH an insightful post - so very true about how we are afraid to be wrong or afraid we'll not live up to expectations or afraid we'll hurt someone's feelings or afraid we'll ....etc....

M said...

I'm not sure I would have picked up on here comment in the same way you did...but the reality of the statement hit home as I pondered it. The "things" that cause fear in us boggle my mind at times and it amazes me that the "things" that oft times cause the greatest fears are the self-imposed kinds.

"Fear not" during this time of transition in your life. Like Patty, you are going to land on your feet and look back and wonder why you allowed the fear to creep into your consciousness to begin with.

I love you


Jerri said...

Your ability to observe and relate is always outstanding, but this piece shows such command of language and pace and story.

That good girl thing can have such a hold on us. I've been trying to squirm out of its grasp for years, too. But you, my dear, are taking this next big leap despite all your fears.

That's truly fearless.

FrecklesandDeb said...

As I think of those who were there while Patty was relating her story, I think most of us could understand that "good girl" thinking. Why do we waste so much time worrying about the things that our head tells us are perfectly silly?

Anonymous said...

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