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