Skydiving – Reflection by Doug Powell

Doug shared this story with me last Fall, as we were talking about the coming year of transitions for our church.  When I heard it – I said – I don’t know when, but there’s going to come a Sunday where I need you to tell that story.  He said, no problem.  This past Sunday, in the service before the vote on my call to Associate Minister, he fulfilled that promise. And we all say THANK YOU!

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I know why people jump out of “perfectly good airplanes.”  Actually, as any skydiver would say – “Perfectly good airplane? There’s no such thing.”

I am among the very few who have “thrown themselves at the ground and missed”, or at least sufficiently delayed the reunion.

Most of my 70-or-so jumps began the same way:  A group of us, gearing up for the adventure, putting on heavy duty harnesses, parachute packs, altimeters, helmets, goggles, etc.

Next, we load into the plane.  We sit down, buckle up, and the plane starts moving.  Everyone is really pumped up, we are cheering, high fiving and people are saying things like “surf’s up!”  The airplane is abuzz with excitement, bravado and chatter as the engines roar, we leave the ground, and the scenery begins to recede in the window.

About ten minutes into our slow ride to altitude, a sort of dark boredom has set in.  Veterans are usually napping, leaving the rookies oh-so-very-alone with their thoughts.

The ground continues to get smaller and smaller, as the altimeter needle winds inexorably upwards.

At some point the pilot turns and confides something to a nearby veteran who loudly yells “2 minutes!”, which a handful of voices echo. The plane wakes up, and starts buzzing with activity again.  All of us are doing last minute gear-checks, planning exits, and getting “ready”.

And then someone goes to the back of the plane and slides open the plexi-glass door to the outside. The plane instantly fills with blustery wind and a hint of airplane exhaust.

This is the moment things get very real for people.

This is also our opportunity to see a phenomenon my friends and I have come to call “door-face”. It looks something like this. <staring off into the distance, expressionless, head tilted slightly to the right>.

It is the moment where you realize two things: 1) What you imagined this might be like has no relationship to what it is actually like, and 2) That you are committed (After all, skydivers say: “When you get up to that door, ‘NO!’ sounds an awful lot like ‘GO!’”).

Near the door, a little red light turns green (indicating that we are over our landing area), and people start leaving the airplane, with the airplane literally “bouncing” like a diving board with each departure. Everyone then moves one notch closer to that door, and all of it’s terrible unknown-ness.

Then the person in front of you ‘vanishes’, and its suddenly your turn. You enter the doorway, looking out into the incomprehensible vastness of the open sky, the wind buffeting you, and the ground looking less “high up”, and more simply unreal.  “One!”, “Two!”, ”Three!”… and you are in freefall. Irrevocably committed.

There are a lot of things you could do at this point: Scream, howl, claw at the air, flap your arms, maybe turn to cast a longing glance back to the airplane.  Sadly, none of them will really change your situation. Scream all you want.  The wind will only dry out your mouth.

As it turns out, the most aerodynamically stable body position in freefall is achieved through… relaxing.  When you truly relax in freefall, your body naturally assumes the shape of an arch. Until you arch, you are unstable, control is difficult. After arching, it becomes stable, even graceful.

Nothing you are likely to imagine could have prepared you for this.  For 60 seemingly eternal seconds, you are simplyin the sky, bathed in wind, with no churning stomach, and no visual sense of velocity.  You can see the horizon in every direction.  A friend of mine poetically described it as “looking straight into the eye of God”.  Relaxed and with your eyes open (this is important), it is a profoundly beautiful, peaceful, humbling and enlivening experience.

It reminds me of when our son Owen was born. I freely admit to more than a little “door-face.”  Things happened MUCH faster than the Lamaze class had led me to expect (I feel like we would have done better with a “Extreme Lamaze” class),  And things got VERY real in that delivery room, for all of us.  With a baby’s cry, we were “out of the airplane” into a new paradigm, and so was he.  The only question was – “How to respond?”

This is always the question, isn’t it? Life is filled with these transitions.  We are always moving from one “world” into another.  How to respond? And most importantly, is our response aligned with our fears? or aligned with our Love?

I suppose we can always howl, claw at the air, flap our arms – trying somehow to fly back up to that airplane, or we can take the more graceful path: accept, relax, arch, and appreciate the humbling beauty around, between, and within us. In every moment, this choice is ours.

Friends, I assert that this community has already exited the airplane.  None of us have been here before, facing this specific transition.  But on the other hand we have all been here before, because we have all experienced transition in our lives.  May we always proceed forward, together, and aligned with our Love.  Blessed be and Namaste!

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About Rev. Gretchen Haley

Gretchen Haley serves as the Senior Minister of the Foothills Unitarian Church in Fort Collins, CO. She's relentlessly curious about most things, especially the big stuff of theology, the beauty of creation and poetry, the magic of collaboration, and the great joy and often-great-depth of popular (and less popular) television and music. She and her partner of 17 years, Carri, have 2 children, Gracie (10) and Josef (8).
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One Response to Skydiving – Reflection by Doug Powell

  1. Pingback: How Big Our Brave Is | Another Possibility

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