It was Christmas Eve 2008, and I was plummeting toward the Earth with a pony-tailed man strapped to my back. Wait, that’s not how you celebrate Christmas Eve?
When Mike first indicated that he and his brother were planning to go skydiving over the holidays, I rolled my eyes and told him resignedly to let me know when he made it to the ground. Mike’s whole family – mom and three siblings – was visiting us in Hawaii for the holidays. We’d all decided that a Christmas spent basking in the perfect Hawaiian sunlight was much preferable to shivering in Midwestern snow, and then Mike and his brother had decided that there was no better way to celebrate the birth of Christ than by jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.
And that’s when a snowball started rolling, right there under my perfect Hawaiian sun.
Soon Mike’s sister decided to go, and then Mike’s sister’s friend, and then Mike’s sister’s friend’s brother, and then Mike’s other brother, and then Mike’s mom. When the entire family had decided they were brave enough to take the leap, I thought, “Great. I guess this means I have to do it.”
So, we piled into a 15-passenger van and headed to Dillingham Airfield’s Skydive Hawaii. To say my nerves were jittering would be putting it mildly. To say I didn’t consider backing out would be a lie. To say I was freaking out when I had to sign my initials on top of fifteen pages of information and release, next to a warning that said “Skydiving may result in death” would be the understatement of the decade.
After we signed our lives away, we sat and waited. And waited. And waited. The crew who would take us was casually eating lunch, and I wondered how on Earth they could be so relaxed. To calm our nerves, my sister in law and I danced. We sang “I’m a maaaaaniac, MAAAAANIAC on the flooor.” We did the football shuffle. We ran laps. We got giddy. We freaked out. We sang “I’m a maniac” more. We shuffled more. We behaved like total morons… morons who couldn’t believe what they were about to do.
And morons who believed it when Mike told us it would feel like floating. No big deal. Too easy.
When it was time to strap ourselves to our tandem master, I asked if the parachute had been packed correctly. When my tandem master, Steve, told me flatly, “I’m not sure, I was drunk when I did it,” I overlooked his poker face and decided he was kidding. When Steve hooked himself onto me, I wondered why we weren’t more securely strapped together. When I started biting my nails as we took off, Steve suddenly grabbed my shoulders and yelled, “YAH!” and I laughed and settled my nerves a bit. When the plane soared peacefully over Oahu’s North Shore, I thought how beautiful the island was and that really there couldn’t be anything to worry about.
When the plane’s door opened at 15,000 feet, I screamed.
When Steve deftly strapped, pulled, and secured our harness, and shimmied over to the edge, I closed my eyes. When we leapt from the plane, I screamed bloody murder.
This part lasted for an eternity. And let me set the record straight for anyone contemplating this leap: There is nothing – I repeat – NOTHING about this that at all resembles floating. In the words of my sister in law, “I had the distinct feeling of falling.”
Yes, there is a but. But when our parachute opened around 8,000 feet, and suddenly I was floating — HERE it indeed felt like floating — peacefully toward the ground, I opened my eyes to the most beautiful view of Earth I’ve ever seen.
It was stunning. Stunning. I could see for miles. A vast panorama of turquoise and teal lay below me. Uninterrupted stretches of sand, reminiscent a piece of yarn casually dropped to the ground, wound around the ocean. Graceful green mountains stood tall against the beaches. White, foamy water churned above the tide’s break. Clouds lazily drifted through the air. It was quiet.
I took a breath.
And my tandem master asked how I was doing.
“This is how I know there’s God,” I responded, without even really thinking. But – yeah. This is how I know there’s God.
“Why’s that?” he asked.
“Because how else could everything be so beautiful? This was no accident.”
As we drifted back and forth, the roaring whitewaters of adrenaline slowed in my veins, and I thought about why I made this leap. Overcome by a need to share my thoughts, I blurted out, “I am so glad I married my husband.”
“He’s the reason you jumped?” Steve asked.
“Oh yeah. I never would have thought this up myself,” I answered. “I always end up doing crazy things because of Mike.” I paused. “And I’m so grateful for that.”
I went on to describe the sweet, innocent relationship Mike and I had had in high school, how we went our separate ways in college, but, through rather tragic circumstances, reconnected and became friends again in our early twenties. Best friends, I’d say. And then, I blinked, and I didn’t want to spend another moment without him, my high school sweetheart, all grown up and commissioned in the Air Force. No sooner did I take the leap of love with him that he told me he got orders to Turkey and had to leave within weeks.
“And that’s when I decided to marry him,” I said. It had been six weeks since we’d started dating again.
“When you know, you know, huh?”
“So true. I remember thinking I’d never marry him because I didn’t want to touch the life of a military wife with a ten foot pole.” I laughed. “That didn’t last long.”
We neared the ground, and I thought about how very blessed I felt to have had this experience, to have done something that absolutely terrified me, to have felt the rush of imagined invincibility, to have witnessed God’s Earth from His vantage point. Steve skillfully steered us to the ground where I saw Mike waiting for me, a huge smile on his face as he stepped out of his harness and his tandem master swiftly gathered up his chute.
As Mike and I began our life together – our crazy, irrational, never-predicted and in fact unpredictable life – we arrived at the perfect toast to say as we clink our glasses together: To our adventures. I had it engraved inside his wedding band.
Although I didn’t spend the hours before our wedding running laps around the church and singing “I’m a maniac” in the dressing room — to the contrary, marrying Mike felt as normal and as relaxed as going to the movies with him — every wild experience this life throws us (and there are a lot of them) brings with it a sudden and unexplainable sense of assuredness that I can and will take the leap. I might do it with my eyes closed at first. I might scream most of the way through. But eventually, I’ll take a breath, enjoy the adventure, and land happily, gratefully, in arms that hold me tight.