"To say yes, you have to sweat and roll up your sleeves, and plunge both hands into life up to the elbows. It is easy to say no, even if saying no means death."
I can mark the date I changed my mind about skydiving: April 10th, 2011. That wasn’t the day I made my first jump; that day I made a profound shift from being committed to a life in which I was devoted to the idea I’d never jump out of an airplane to one in which I knew I would—and soon.
The night before, I’d gone out dancing with a group of friends, one of whom, like me, was newly single. He was going skydiving the next day, which terrified me—I texted him and the others later that night, thanking them for a lovely evening and then adding a note to him, “Don’t die skydiving!”
Somehow the night dancing woke up an attraction he and I had for each other and the next day, after skydiving, he and I started a quick, explosive—but highly complicated entanglement. We spent nearly all our free time together for about two and a half months—and seemed to connect spiritually, creatively, socially, physically, etc, in ways we hadn’t with others in the past. Because we were so newly out of relationships with others (and perhaps maybe not all the way disentangled as we initially thought), the complicated nature of the relationship ensued and the relationship imploded in a way that was incredibly painful for me.
Anyhow, that first evening, we were cuddling on my couch and he kept playfully saying, “Don’t you want to skydive?” And I kept saying, “No!” But I said it so forcefully, as if not skydiving was an essential part of my person. Suddenly, it worried me that I had such strong opinions about what I might do or not do in life. Would I potentially shut myself off to life-changing opportunities with this attitude? I used to have a quote on my wall by the theater improv teacher, Keith Johnstone. It reads, “There are people who prefer to say yes, and there are people who prefer to say no. Those who say yes are rewarded by the adventure they have and those who say no are rewarded by the safety they attain.” Somehow, I was swept up by this thought—and my friend’s playful pestering, and I said, “yes”—both to the idea of skydiving, and his quick insistence that I open my heart to him fully.
The first plan to skydive was waylaid because the day we were going to go to Acampo, where the Parachute Center is, and where some of my family friends were having a party, some of our life complications surfaced and he backed out of the plans. I decided to put off skydiving until another time and just went to the party on my own, if a bit embarrassed that I wasn’t coming with him as announced.
I decided that when I did go skydiving, it would be on my own. I’m not sure why, but I felt there was something powerful in that decision. I finally did, two days after the brief, intense relationship imploded. The ending, was, as all romantic disappointment tends to be for me, painful, but gave me the lovely opportunity, once again, to feel like I was 15 and the boy I’d been seeing showed up to school holding another girl’s hand. I started taking a hard look at a pattern I’d locked in 30 years ago. The relationship I’d started when I was fifteen would last 18 years, ending in physical and emotional disaster, but at least ending! Somehow, disaster and heartbreak became associated with love for me, and I continued to jump into romantic fires, negotiating trapdoors, and falling headlong down mine shafts.
On July 1st, two days after “the talk,” (which was an extended version of, “It’s not you, it’s me,” with me thinking, “You betcha it’s you!”), I drove an hour and a half from Merced to Lodi, California, up highway 99 to the Parachute Center in Acampo. I felt slightly out of my body—rather numb to the whole idea. Having told a friend or two I was going, I felt somewhat accountable. However, I was more accountable to myself, and my willingness to be changed. I was now going to become a person who was no longer attached to hard and fast rules about my identity. It helped that I’d quit drinking over 5 years ago. When I first quit, I felt attached to my relationship with drinking. I didn’t know who I’d be without alcohol and all its rituals. Five years later, that identity seems so foreign and destructive to me, it’s hard to imagine that I mourned it for several months.
This wasn’t about the parachute jump—which was a tandem jump with a highly experienced jumper. Though it was scary (edging up to the plane’s door 13,000 feet above ground), thrilling (freefalling for 60 seconds), and breathtaking (the float down once the parachute was opened), it was more symbolic than anything else. My guide asked me what was the occasion, and I said, “There’s no occasion. I just had it in my mind to jump out of an airplane.” When the photographer asked, “Why do you want to jump?” I said, “Because it scares me.”
What else am I scared of that I could consider becoming fearless about? What “no’s” do I hold to so firmly that I cannot see what I could be if I said yes? Who might I be if I give up long-held patterns, habits, ideas? What am I afraid would happen if I open myself to be fully changed? What if I see the fire I just walked through not as a destructive force, one that has disabled me, but as a heat and light, that has let me shine more brightly?
I keep a Marianne Williamson quote by my side:
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are we not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”