We sat and watched as plane after plane full of people went up, returning to the ground with only a pilot. Far above in the atmosphere, we saw them begin to descend. At first they were specks, accelerating impossibly fast and tumbling toward the earth nearly 2 miles below. Soon colorful parachutes burst out from behind them, and they markedly slowed. They turned and spun and floated, eventually approaching the ground at what seemed to be about 20 or 30 miles per hour, then somehow slowed at the last moment to make a soft landing. Some fell forward, but all returned to the hangar unscathed. And there we stood, realizing that in just a matter of time our turn would come.
After a long day of waiting, our names were called out. We were the last to go, and we were more than ready. As the plane took off, I felt my heart begin to flutter. The feeling quickly subsided as I focused on breathing. I talked to God just as if I were sitting outside on a cool night with the trees rustling in the wind. I felt so close to Him, enveloped in His peace when I would have had every reason to be anxious. It seemed like we climbed higher into the sky for an eternity.
Something about being at 10,000 feet caught me off guard. I wasn’t afraid … after having every expectation that I would be. My instructor, Jack, began to prepare me for the jump, harnessing me tightly to himself. "One point five minutes to jump!" The pilot called out above the rickety din of the single engine sardine can in which we sat. Jack asked me in the last minute if I wanted do to a flip or two when we first jumped. I said no, then yes. Why not? I thought. I’ve come this far, I might as well take it for all it’s worth. At 30 seconds, he opened the door. I looked at my friend who was jumping after me, and he gave me a wide-eyed but knowing look. I was ready. I was more than ready. I was briefly afraid when the door first opened, but not overwhelmingly.
I set my foot on the small platform just outside the airplane door. In a blur, Jack’s foot was next to mine, and he quickly prompted me to fold my arms over my chest. We were in the air in a split second, tumbling at 120 miles per hour toward the brown and green speckled farmlands below. We flipped almost immediately.
Ground … plane … ground … ground …It was coming at us so quickly, yet still seemed so very distant. I felt like the air was almost liquid as it rushed into my face, but like a screen being pushed against me at an intense velocity. Somehow, I was perfectly able to breathe.
The chute opened and pain shot all through my legs. My feet started to tingle. Jack quickly loosened the harnesses to give both of us a little more room. The best part had just begun. He talked to me as we floated down. At one point he carefully gave me the reigns to steer the chute into turns and spins. It was exhilarating and beautiful. I felt so at peace and in awe of God’s beautiful atmosphere. I was acutely and oddly aware of my sinuses the entire time. It was simultaneously comical and amazing.
We landed softly and safely. Soon after that, my friend and I were on the road heading back to the campus of our college. Our car ride was full of reflection and a long string of phone calls to family and loved ones to let them know we hadn’t been splattered across the lands of Oklahoma—though part of me was (and still is) up there in the sky. As I closed my eyes to sleep that night, the entire experience kept replaying in my mind, almost as if it were automated.
It was the experience of a lifetime, and I have a feeling it won’t be the last time I embark on such an adventure.