Tacking hard back and forth across the teeth of the wind.Spray filling my eyes as the bow plunges into wave after indifferent wave.The imprint of rope on my clenched fingers may by now be permanent.The going is slow and my destination still so far off that I’ve almost forgotten its original allure.All I know is that the safe harbor I’ve been seeking seems to lie at the birthplace of the relentless headwind.“Perhaps it is time to choose a new course,” I think as another wash of spray wipes my brow.“Perhaps.”
The stories any of us can recall about sailing downwind are few for their lack of incident, even scarcer if one has never actually sailed, but let’s say its national metaphor day and roll with it. For most of us, our many days are marked in turn by periods of smooth runnings, threatening waters, and periods of the listless, anxiety-provoking doldrums. Each it seems has their time and place on the nautical map of our journey, and I imagine a reason they’ve found us, or we’ve found them. Few milestones rise up in monolithic fashion while we are enjoying the momentary gift of easy passage through this life.It may be that the cursed wind, or lack of it, thwarting our efforts at any given moment is also the very gift that aids us in the writing of a story finally worth telling.
Parents! If you’re lucky enough to still have them around, excellent! If they can on occasion be challenging, that’s not uncommon; look who’s talking. If you think they did a less than perfect job of playing god to you and your siblings if you have the pleasure of sisters or brothers, you’re possibly right…they’re only human for fuck’s sake.
For the longest time, I held my parents responsible for crimes against humanity.Humanity, consisting primarily of me.Not everyone is so fortunate to experience the “victim/narcissist” posture that I somehow adopted at an early age, but some of you may be able to identify what I’m talking about.Ugh, so embarrassing!Anyway, my folks were young when they got into the kid-having business, and they set out to do their best, whatever that means.
We all do our best right?No, we don’t all do our best, a topic for another time.However, if we do our best, well done us!That, in my opinion, is how we give ourselves the best odds at getting through this monkey parade in one piece.To my youthful affronted mind though “my parents best” was less than acceptable.Precious snowflake boy? Or perhaps, ungrateful asshole? You decide.
These days I am a parent.Actually, I’m on the downhill side of the child-rearing experience with two healthy, happy-ish teenage sons.I love my role and have learned a great deal about what my parents must have faced during their “adventure in child rearing.”Unfortunately, like my parents, I found that my wedding vows could not withstand the weight of the union itself.Thus, I’m deunionised, or as we say in the vernacular “divorced.”I’m a single parent 182.5 days a year; the best 182.5 days of any given year I might add.Raising kids is like most experiences I’ve encountered.Attitude is everything!
Being married is work, work that unfortunately does not always bring to bear the fruit of one’s labor.Circumstances as they turned out to be I’ve come to realize that I have not always been the best reader of the more subtle aspects of certain human personalities.I do believe that I hear and see people clearly when ‘they speak their truth’ and glean the essence of who they are, perhaps more so than they themselves at times.Ego talk? Probably. Though if my relationships with my sons, friends, colleagues, etc. are any indication, and if I’m not wholly deluding myself, it’s possibly true.Still, I have a lot to learn yet about how to be my best.As for my misread on the choice of life partners?Romance seems to be my kryptonite, also a topic for another post.
I bring up marriage only because the majority of parenting is done, or at least initially undertaken in that construct.All of the great, and not so great parts of a marriage inform the parenting of the children in a family.What relational skills do we unwittingly gift our progeny as they bear witness to our matrimonial dance?Could we have done better? Certainly.The adage about living in a glass house while hoisting stones comes to mind again and again.No blaming or finger pointing here.
Back to my parents. They worked hard, or at least my pops did. On top of that burden, they had to figure out how to raise kids; manual not included. Dad provided us (sisters not pictured above because they were still a twinkle in the old man’s eye when the shutter snapped) with way more than anyone had a right to expect. To put it mildly, we never wanted for the basics. Dad delivered grand family vacations, money for college, and bailed us out when our youthful dances included gross missteps. My father was extremely driven and excelled in a high-stress profession his entire life. The intensity must have been nearly unbearable. Reflecting on his situation as an adult, I can’t imagine how he handled the pressure. No wonder things weren’t always Lavender bouquets and yoga mats around the house.
My father and I are different people, to put it mildly, with decidedly different relational needs. We didn’t see eye to eye on much during my childhood. It’s no one’s fault, just how that particular cookie crumbled. In school, work or social life situations, one can choose to step away from relationships of that nature, but in the confines of the family structure, we just have to make the best of the hand as it is dealt. We didn’t get to choose each other or browse the “Family Relationship” version of Match.com before we committed to a life together. So it goes.
In my twenties, I moved away from my hometown. I left with the hope of escaping my stuckness, neighborhoods with six homes to an acre, traffic, and my roadblocked relationship with my family.With all my possessions in a subcompact car, I journeyed across the country in search of the life I’d always felt I was meant to live.“Wherever you go, there you are” notwithstanding it ultimately worked.My life and my sons’ lives are good, whole, full of love, mutual respect, and acceptance.Phew!
By moving away, and thereby breaking the cycle, I was able to discover that a new relationship with myself and my parents was attainable through the grace afforded by distance.Distance allows perspective.Perspective provides the chance for healing.Healing allows courage to blossom.Courage creates the possibility of change.Change creates the opportunity for forgiveness.Forgiveness is a universal gift.
Becoming a parent affords one an opportunity to experience the disruptive effect of ripples on the pond into which the Narcissus in all of us gaze.It offers a moment for those of us who have not yet discovered selflessness to awaken, and so be humbled.Parenthood provides the chance to accept, atone, forgive, and appreciate those whom we may formerly have held in some form of blame.
I love you, mom and dad!I now see clearly that you did the very best you could.Your hearts, not mine were in the right place, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Distant lightning flashed. White light careened through the skylights momentarily illuminating the dark bedroom. The air bristled with discomfort, disquiet coursing through my mind, through every cell in my body. Thunder rolled across the night, and the wind rose to a harsh whistle at the windows. The unease that filled the night was not however born on the wings of the coming storm. It was of my own making; a rising tide the origin of which was a mystery, unknowable and ominous.
As the first huge drops of rain began to hammer the skylights, I huddled in the darkness wrestling with the sense that everything in my world seemed beyond control, beyond the possibility of repair, beyond hope. The spread of this darkness began to envelop my mind, strangling my thoughts, paralyzing any ability I once would have used to still the maelstrom of doubts. For reasons the genesis of which escape me, there are times in life when the smallest thing, the largest thing, everything seems overwhelming.
As the storm overtook the house in its full force, I lay still in the darkness. Fear of living is not something I choose to dance with, but there are times when the music comes up, and that fear reaches for my hand and pulls me out onto the floor despite my resistance. This was such a night, such a dance, spinning around the room I moved to the tune of unfounded fear.
The sound of the hammering rain drew my eyes in the direction of the skylight. As I stared wide-eyed into the blackness a lightning bolt struck, once again blasting the world with white light. At that moment I saw the myriad raindrops exploding against the glass. That’s when it dawned on me.
The raindrops are a metaphor for life. Moments before they had not been raindrops. From an ineffable particle field of clouds miles above they had formed, born into the shape of a water droplet; a singular entity created from the ether. They live in individual form hurtling through space and time; their unique existence real and measurable, for a moment. Upon striking the skylight, the rooftop, or the ground they were transformed; no longer individual drops, returned to the shapelessness of rushing water, washing away to be absorbed by the earth. There they are assimilated and redistributed as means for growth and current for streams and rivers. After a few hot days, any evidence of their unique existence is diminished and finally vanishes.
So it is with life. A beginning from nothing followed by a meteoric plunge through the universe of existence; and finally a return to the fathomless whole of all things. Everything that has a beginning has an end. Once placed in this perspective no journey is without hope, without relief, or without its own particular brilliance. The storm of disquiet within dissipated, understanding washing over me in a gentle wave of acceptance and appreciation. I pulled the covers over my slowly relaxing body, rolled to my side and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
“There’s a kid in my bed,” I thought to myself.Out of context, that phrase could raise a red flag or two, no?The kid in my bed, however, was my youngest who had asked me several hours earlier, “Daddy, can I sleep in your bed?”To which I replied “No.”
Hmm, perhaps he is a budding somnambulist, or maybe he’s just confident enough in his ninja abilities to believe that he could enter my room, and then my bed without being detected.Either way there he was sound asleep, peaceful, wonderful.
Acceptance is not always synonymous with surrender, or in this case defeat.Acceptance, in my opinion, is one of the pillars of ‘Minimal Damage Parenting.’Minimal Damage Parenting I believe is the best we raisers of offspring can hope to achieve.It’s a foregone conclusion that when it comes to parental duties, we will at some point fuck up royally leaving emotional scars at various depths which will ensure the lucrative futures of those in the fields of psychology or psychiatry for generations to come.So I accepted the fact that I had a sleeping boy inhabiting the easternmost part of my king sized bed, rolled over, smiling about the amazing good fortune of playing father to two truly lovely young men, snuggled my face into my pillow and clocked out.
“Dude…you peed the bed!”
As the words left my lips, I put a last moment spin on my inflection in an effort to remove any note of anger or shaming.
“It’s okay buddy, but please let’s strip the bed and throw everything in the washing machine.”This was not the first time my son had had an ‘accident’…in fact, he was a chronic “sleep pisser.”Some parents get bent about this kinda shit, but I’ve decided that, other than doing more laundry than the average bear family, it’s no big deal.I’m quite confident that it’s not his idea of a good time and that he will eventually grow out of it.
Acceptance, not of bad behavior, sloth, disrespect, cruelty, etc., but of things which ‘just happen’ and will eventually stop happening can only be positive.I believe this is what healthy parenting is all about.Shame is a toxin.As an adult, we may choose to partake in the use of toxins for the purpose of overcoming our inadequate coping abilities, the quelling or social anxiety, or whatever.Children, however, don’t have the same “recreational” luxury.However, they are vulnerable to psychological toxins and are unlikely to choose exposure to them of their own free will.Were you ever shamed by your caregivers?If so, pretty awesome right?
Shame is a prime mover in our society.It’s an under lurker that bears no face on the surface but wears a monster’s mask under the bed.If you feel that you bear no shame you are either lying, unusually lucky or a psychopath.
A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.
So says the dictionary.Interesting interpretation.I find it curious that this definition of shame put all onus on the one bearing shame and none on any outside influence that may be assigning it.Is all shame real, or is some shame framed for us by those who simply want us to feel bad about circumstances that displease them?Have you ever had a bad day?Have you ever taken that bad day out on someone who had nothing to do with it?I have…ugh!Just writing it here makes my stomach turn.Yes, I’ve been that entitled asshole.And I’ve seen them, at gas stations, in restaurants, in the workplace, and of course, at Walmart.
So back to parenting for a sec.Kids are easy prey.They are vulnerable.They are trusting.They don’t know how to discern the difference between reasonable accountability, and unreasonable judgment.How many apologies for shaming do we get before we’ve cried wolf one too many times?If we are able to ask forgiveness at all?I ask this not in an accusing tone.Rather in the spirit of circumspection.I didn’t have the misfortune of pissing the bed, but holy shit do I have my share of issues.My sons don’t deserve my shame.They don’t deserve any shame at all.Did I mention that shame, in my opinion, is a toxin?
Being a parent is many things.Hopefully first and foremost being a parent is perpetrating the act of helping your children find a path to grow into the best possible versions of themselves.Shame has no part in that journey.If you disagree, well, as they say, shame on you.
Sometimes things feel so spot on, so figured out. Other times things feel so fucked! Honesty is both beautiful and ugly, so here we go. Glass half full, glass half empty, glass whatever until shit hits the fan. You’ve had a bad day right? You’ve had some good ones too? I’ve had both and can unequivocally offer my opinion of the difference between them; I don’t dig the darkness. It’s easy for me to be up when I’m fortunate enough to awaken on the right side of the bed, if something truly wonderful has happened in my life, or if I have an audience to entertain. It’s also easy for me to find the shadows when the hall is empty, or the vicissitudes of fate choose a game of random misery.
Spirit, soul, perspective, blow with the wind when no one is looking. We’ve all likely found darkness shrouding our path at some point. We’ve also probably been fortunate enough to know lightness. I experience both in a relatively favorable measure, but today it is the darkness that accompanies me as I make my way. Odd that a life I feel to be so fortunate should seem so dismal at this moment. History tells me it will pass. And thank god! A funny expression emanating my lips “Thank god,” as I do not currently ascribe to conventional western religious doctrine. Still, I feel it, the meaning of “Thank god,” balls to bones because I have faith. Faith not in books, nor figureheads, but in “It!” The “It” that binds us all together in this life.
How are your dark days? Mine are daunting. Sometimes I feel fearful in my solitude. Afraid that I will fail those I love. Worried that I will fail me! Ha, shouldn’t I have included myself in the numbers of the former? How will I fail? By not showing up, not delivering the promise of optimism and perseverance to which I have committed?
Depression is the antichrist to hopeful endeavor, and some days when I feel it’s weight bearing down on me I find no solace, no sense of possibility for escape. For context, I do not suffer from the type of debilitating depression that some struggle with. Fortune smiles on my brain chemistry in that regard. I am talking about run of the mill, “get over yourself” feelings of depression. The emotional state one simply has to face, and vanquish.
It is to a great extent the way in our culture to have ears only for, “Fine” or “Great thanks,” in response to the question, “How are you?” Who has time for the real answer right? To avoid pariah status, when I find my soul cloaked in crushing darkness I lie, “Doing well, thanks. You?” Perhaps being born in the United States where the concept of “Rugged Individualism” is a historical cornerstone, this automatic response is coded into my DNA. Though from what I’ve read, Rugged Individualism is a walk in the park relative to the DNA encoding that the English have saddled themselves with! Interestingly, my genealogy leads in no small way to that tight-lipped isle of rain-soaked woe. Not super surprising that an occasional down day should find me.
Today I listened to a Tim Ferris Show podcast featuring the renowned psychologist Jack Kornfield. Jack’s career began in the jungles of Thailand where in his twenties while serving with the peace corp he decided to become a Buddhist monk. As he explained, it was a painful but enlightening (pun intended) journey that lead him to new perspectives on self, self-hatred, and self-love, compassion, and empathy. I bring this up because his words struck me hard. Hard as in repeated blows of a mighty love hammer. Multiple times while listening I spontaneously began to weep. Something in his message hit trigger points over and over again. This experience crescendoed during his closing comments which left me clutching my heart, crying full voice on the futon in the family room. Futon? What am I, a college student? Whatever!
Jack’s wisdom and his message of loving-kindness (insert “snowflake quip here) touched me deeply. It afforded me a window through which I saw metaphorical rays of sunlight. The darkness that had enveloped me for the last few days seemed to cower and then diminish. Tim’s conversation with Jack somehow pierced the black veil of my personal manifestation of Rugged Individualism. It reminded me that we are not, or do not have to choose to remain alone in our struggles. Jack’s words reasserted the possibility of choosing to breach the norm of, “I’m fine.” The chance to reach for connection, and more importantly offer connection, with compassion to those we find wrapped in the solitary binds of darkness.
If you struggle alone with your demons, you can share that burden. You have options. Check out Jack’s thoughts on the subject via the link provided below. Write a comment. Please share your story. Together we are strong enough to shed light on the darkness. Together we can create brilliance!
The patience cat came to stay on an unusually warm Saturday in late July. She was accompanied by two siblings who clearly regarded her as the least significant of their clan. The serial cat rescuers we acquired these new family members from defined her as the runt of the litter. Funny word for living things, “litter!” Kittens come into the world in one, cats relieve themselves in it, and humans prone to indiscretion cast it from the windows of speeding cars along the highways of America as a malevolent gift to society at large. Anyway, the three kittens, two silver tabby girls and one-half tabby, half polished polar bear boy crawled tentatively over the edge of their cardboard limo to explore the new world. “Ugh, linoleum,” thought the patience cat at first touch, what have we gotten ourselves into?
Interestingly that was also one of my first thoughts when I bought the place. That said, Linoleum is an amazing substance, tackiness notwithstanding. No offense meant to lovers of the flooring option. It (linoleum) is an amazingly forgiving, and down-the-road money-saving choice. For instance, when the 1970’s fridge that came with this fossilized house offers up a couple of quarts of “where the hell did that water come from” around its base, or one of the cats yacks their morning kibble and half the lawn on it, its cool. Linoleum saves the day via its impermeable countenance. A few rags or paper towels solve the problem, and no one has to lose sleep over absorbency. Excellent! The fact that someone actually gets paid to create the god-awful designs featured on most plastic flooring products must rank high among god’s jokes, but I digress?
As human children grow up their personalities being to emerge, or if their ways of being have been made clear early on, they magnify. The Patience Cat was no exception. Being a firstborn myself, by many years actually, (only child until I was six), I can’t imagine what it must be like to be the weakest among seven born within twenty minutes. In the litter arena, I imagine getting food, let alone parental nurturing has a gladiatorial survival essence about it. So yes, she was slight of build, to put it mildly. In fact, she looked like a bobblehead. That said, unlike many of her kind, she survived. In her little cat way, she found footing in a loving home and made a place for herself, possibly due to the three, well-distanced food bowl placement strategy employed at our place.
So it was that the Patience Cat became a teenager. The intersection of safety with dependable continuity from day to day allows one to spread their wings. The Patience Cat found this to be true for her. The unruliness and demands of a teenager manifested in her every action. The quirks this girl displays make for regular conversation fodder around the house. Which for context I must say is a house inhabited by three men two teenagers and yours truly.
This kitty girl, with all her issues, is a gift to us. For one thing she is a lovely little soul. On top of that, her style of interaction provides a constant reminder that patience is a choice. Patience was in short supply in the halls where I dwelled during my early years. So it is I imagine in most households featuring young, busy parents and challenging offspring. Though I was first born, and therefore not classified as a runt by traditional definition, I was not remotely familiar with golden child status, nor accustomed to patience as a guiding hand during my assent to adulthood, (an assent which I’m not sure I’ve completed). The apple, as they say, does not fall far from the tree, unless a benevolent tornado has been involved in logistical reassignment proceedings. As a result, the expression “patience is a virtue” comes to mind in no small way on a daily basis for me. The Patience Cat then has become something of a guide, a guardian angel if you will, to remind me of my choice to be accepting of others. In particular, she has reminded me to make space for those who, by no fault, or choosing of their own, do shit that makes me want to go volcanic!
Do you remember that kid in school who tried way too hard to get attention? Everybody shunned that poor desperate bastard or bastardette right? That’s the Patience Cat! Working at the laptop, perched on the couch with a cocktail, I’ll be intensely focused on a project. Then here she comes, sliding her dripping, enthusiastic nose across my arm, ensuring a typo as she works her way toward obscuring my view of the screen. Even now as I am typing this piece, she has been nudging and nuzzling my arm with that running nose to the damp tune of a multitude of “red underlined” typos. Ugh! But wait, she just wants connection. That’s not a crime. So I have to take a breath and chill, in lieu of my automatic response which would be to escort her from the couch physically, possibly to a neighboring county. Yes, I can be an insensitive ass. The boys, who have had similar experiences, find her to be equally intrusive and disruptive. We discuss it, regularly. Good for her though, we ultimately decide, grudgingly. She goes for what she wants. Plenty of humans never find the courage to quest for the fulfillment of their needs. Again, the Patience Cat is a guide, a role model even.
Though she can be trying on multiple levels, she is family. The name Patience Cat, which I might add, is her most flattering nickname to date, arose from her curious behavior at the threshold of our patio door. It was late December, the temperature hovering at 7º. She wanted to go outside, sort of. She meowed at the door; I opened it wide offering unobstructed passage. She backed up, timid, uncertain. Confused, I closed the door. She again meowed and approached the door. Once more I pulled the door open allowing the winter chill to wither the already wilting kitchen. Again she backed up and declined the offer. This time I Thought, “well what the fuck cat?” Then it dawned on me; she has an issue with crossing the threshold. Perhaps she’d been hit in the ass by that door at some point on her proverbial “way out.” Not on my watch, but we have had cat sitters while on vacation. Hmmm? I mustered a patience flame from deep within. Standing there freezing my ass off, while hundreds of dollars of central heat poured into the leafless, frigid backyard I waited.
I spoke gently to her, assuring her that she could exit safely, and would be let back in should she change her mind. She looked at me as if to say, “I don’t speak English, you silly fuck!” I stood still, recognizing at that moment the opportunity to undo a lifetime of patience-less perspective. Slowly she moved, one tiny, cautious step at a time across that insanely hideous greenish plaid-ish linoleum toward the doorway. Minutes passed, hours, days, lifetimes. Suddenly she rushed the door. As she approached the threshold, she leaped several feet in the air kicking her hide quarters to the side like a freestyle motocross rider and flew out into the winter night.
Stunned, I watched her dash across the frozen grass, then realizing my shiver along with the icicles forming on my eyelashes, closed the door. Click went the latch. There in that dark, cold, horribly neglected 1950’s kitchen I stood stone still. Moments passed. A smile slowly crossed my lips; then laughter burst from me. The Patience Cat, the smallest and least likely to survive had delivered a late Christmas present. Patience grew where once there was none. It is a choice that can manifest, a gift, a survivable option for one to whom it had formerly been no more than a myth. Who knew?
If you’re still stuck on the 7º bit, fear not. I did a lap or two around the house turning off lights and saying good nights, returned to the kitchen, and called the little girl in.
Being single at 50 something on the dating scene is like jumping off the high dive aiming for a glass of water.
Divorce is fun…for masochists. It’s that moment when you realize everything you promised will end up broken. You may be an angry narcissist, in denial of course, or you may just be angry…no judgment. You may be a giver; give, give, give never take. You may be afraid of conflict. You may be a bully. You may be a nice, well-balanced person who made a bad choice in the partnership department. Whatever your position on the spectrum of coping mechanisms, behavior patterns or denial, divorce is the shits.
Will it be hard to start over? Maybe. Are there fish in the sea? Plenty. Will any of them appeal to you? Absolutely! Will those who do appeal to you be age appropriate? Highly unlikely! Online dating: Men with their bare-chested, or fish holding pix, rock on you silly geese! Women with their rudimentary photoshop skills shouting out “look at me” from the polished profile pic saying, “no really…I’m young” looking for a second chance. How could that pool have gotten so small?
It’s not easy to find what you had looked for so many years ago. You may have kids now. If you don’t want more kids the pool narrows. You may want dogs or cats in your life, you may not. The pool narrows. You may have voted red state, you may have voted blue. The pool narrows. You may like hiking or kayaking, or wine tasting, cooking classes, running, volunteering or even knitting/gunplay…the pool narrows. The pool narrows until you look between your two big toes and see that the pool has shrunk to the size of a glass of water. Should you jump?
Are you willing to come to grips with why your marriage/relationship ended? It’s easy during a divorce to cast oneself as the hero. I was exceptionally good at it. The facts more likely point to two sides of the story, and I bring this up for a reason. If we don’t at least attempt to understand our contribution to the chaos then we will visit that same ill fate on whatever poor soul awaits us in that tiny glass of water below.
So what positives can we pull; what gems can we glean from the denouement of a primary relationship, and ensuing diminished chance of future relational bliss? What understanding can we assimilate as we stand on the platform poised to dive into the narrow cup of opportunity that awaits us? An insight gained in the sleepless hours before dawn perhaps? Appreciation for the now not so rare moments of silence afforded to one who has no other? Pausing long enough to hear a truth about ourselves whether we want to or not? If we learn anything…it is everything in that moment. A moment of victory!
Have thoughts on the subject? Please comment. Life is bigger and better with shared experience!
I gripped the frame of the exit door with Hulk-like strength, except for the Hulk-like, and strength bits. Suffice it to say I used everything I had to hold on. In my experience, there’s no greater motivating force within a human being than fear. The jump light turned from “two minutes” yellow to green. Time to go. I don’t know if I remembered to take a breath. Forgetting to breathe in everyday terrestrial life is an issue for me as it is, no doubt at the moment of exit I had accidentally become nearly ‘oxygen free.’ Air starved brain notwithstanding I did remember to lean out, lean in, then launch, and let go of the plane.
My body tumbled in the wind wash created by my earthward trajectory coupled with the rapid westward bearing of the Twin Otter aircraft.
“Breathe, and calm the fuck down,” I said to myself.
After a bit more negotiating my body finally arched into a V shape. Legs up, head up, plummeting toward earth in gravity’s firm embrace. With the flight of my person finally stabilized I could take a moment to connect with this singular experience; moving through space at over 120 miles per hours without mechanical assistance. The sensation is indescribable, and not commonly known. Why? Fear? The result of good decision making? You decide.
I can’t speak for others who choose to jump from 14,000 feet with no more than a nylon lifeline, but I have to believe that some of them leap, or at least made their first jump for the same reason I did; to slay a dragon. To confront fear in the now, or never. To stand over it, perhaps for the first time with a triumphant smile. If only a smile of sweet relief once we’ed reconnected with mother earth.
One’s inaugural exit, that first jump is exponentially more mind-blowing than any of the next hundred, thousand, or infinity and beyond. It’s a threshold that cannot be recrossed. On my very first solo jump, I experience a minor equipment malfunction. I say minor because in hindsight everything worked out. However, as it was all going down, I thought I might have a one jump career, and be remembered as the most unlucky skydiver of all time.
On a first AFF jump, (Accelerated Free Fall, Category A) one exits the aircraft at 14,000 feet gripped by two instructors. At 6000 feet the ‘pull’ sequence is initiated. If you the student have freaked out, one of the instructors, assuming you haven’t shaken them loose in a wild tumble, pulls for you. As for the “wild tumble” bit, youtube.com offers an endless supply of “oh shit” scenarios @AFF SKYDIVE GOES BAD. On my first AFF jump, I pulled the ripcord, at which point I was on my own. Thankfully the chute deployed. I dialed my freak from 11 to 9. Next order of business, fly the thing. I reached for the control toggles, gripped and pulled hard to free them. One complied, the other did not. Suddenly I was in a death spiral; corkscrew spinning under canopy plummeting from 5000 feet. I distinctly remember thinking, “Are you fucking kidding me???”
The six hours of ground school that morning had scared the shit out of me. Videos and anecdotes had elaborated on everything that could go wrong, and there I was starring in a new episode. Somehow I found clarity in this “now or never moment.” I let go of the left control toggle and went after the right ‘stuck’ one with both desperate hands. Eventually, it came free at which point the ocean blue Saber II canopy leveled out. Just like that, I survived.
It’s a numbers game, skydiving. I’ve known jumpers burned severely when their path crossed a set of power lines. I’ve known jumpers who are dead now due to equipment malfunction. I’ve jumped a mere fifty-five times, mostly without incident, a total novice. I know the odds are that if I keep jumping one day I’ll end up taking “reserve ride.” Also known as a ‘cutaway,’ a reserve ride occurs when one’s main chute fails at which point that panicked soul pulls a handle to cut/release the bad chute, and pulls another to deploy the reserve canopy.
Though I’ve not had the pleasure, I assume this operation is accompanied by increased heart rate, heavy breathing, and a healthy dose of holy FU#K style “oh shits!” The beauty of a reserve chute is that, well, it’s available. It’s a second chance to survive the day. Your day. Your kid’s day, assuming you have kids. Your parent’s day if they happen to still be with you, your friend’s day, and your life insurance company’s day. If the reserve fails, someone’s looking at a lot of paperwork!
I’m currently on hiatus from the sky life. That said, I know that learning to skydive has been one of the most transformational experiences of my seemingly endless life. Seemingly endless? Yes! Once I entered the red zone known as midlife, time while flying by seems to have been doing so for eons. I will go back to jumping when the time is right because the experience is life-affirming, and it gives me something I just can’t get inside “a perfectly good airplane.”
If we have roadblocks in our lives, they are most likely made of fear. If they are in fact made of fear, they are most likely difficult, if not seemingly impossible to surmount. We as a culture have a fair amount of shame attached to fear, and so we bury it, deny it, negotiate with it, and finally relegate it to the ego basement. Avoiding fear is comfortable, useful, life-saving …or is it? Nowadays when I find myself in a place of deep fear, I remember my time in the sky. The only way forward, the only way through, is to let go of the plane.
Have thoughts on the subject? Please comment. Life is bigger and better with shared experience!
Oh millennials, how you see things for what they appear to be…to you! The exact exchange went something like this.
Millennial: “Aren’t your too old to wear a Fireball Whiskey T-shirt? As they say, If you’re old enough to buy Fireball, you’re too old to drink Fireball.”
Good point though in some respects. That cinnamon-laced antifreeze is probably not a good nutritional choice at any age. What struck me as funny was that until that moment ageism had gone missing in my world. I, no longer being concerned with “fitting in” in the same way that most of us were so obsessed with in high school, didn’t register the ‘age issue’ as it related to “the shirt.” Whatever…really, again with the “whatever?” Joking aside, the reality of the conversation ran deeper than cotton. People divide the value of another individual’s input into categories. If you’re too old, or too young, too Red or too Blue, to this ethnic background or too that, male or female, you may not be able to connect with an alternate demographic. To that, I say…maybe.
Seems to me that we as humans have the option to transcend all manner of barriers; be they related to race, socio-economic status, age, gender, etc. The question is, will we? If we are willing to open our minds to the circumstances of others can we not then remain pertinent and more importantly in ‘learning mode’ until the day we clock out? Even if those with whom we attempt to connect are as yet unable to open their minds to our way of thinking? I’d like to think so.
Pre-industrial revolution cultures valued the accumulation of wisdom. Hence the term “wise men…and women.” That wisdom was acquired most commonly by those who had lived long enough, and processed enough life experience to know more than the average sixteen-year-old. Nowadays said sixteen-year-old can web surf their way to information over the course of a summer that would have formerly taken a lifetime to gather. Knowledge is power…but is it wisdom?
Back to the ‘Fireball Whiskey T-shirt.” Yes, I get that the shirt is a marketing tool used by the creators of said elixir, but I really liked the art on the “T” so I bought it. A fire-breathing lion-ish creature in a majestic, upright pose appealed to me at the moment. Art, be its simple, or rich in complexity is just that…art. All art is timeless if we, the viewers allow ourselves to join in the concept of timelessness. We don’t have to love it. We can even hate it. Either way, we can choose to allow it. We can choose to coexist with it without feeling threatened.
I started going grey around the time of my fortieth birthday. As a lifetime wannabe rock star that did not sit well. Enter my hair salon phase. As a fortieth birthday self-gifting experiment I saloned up and had my hair dyed. I liked it! So much so that I continued the practice for over a decade. I didn’t want to be judged by my age; not by peers, not by clients, not by me. Of course, I realize that my reaction is unique and that everyone else wants to become and, more importantly, look older…ha! Age is wisdom after all so who doesn’t want to look wise right?
Nowadays I have let nature take its course with my physical being. Long silver hair spills over my shoulders and as a result, I garner an equal dose of both disapproving looks, and comments along the lines of “I love your hair, do you hear that a lot?” I do. But I’ve also heard from colleagues, “Hey, have you ever thought about cutting your hair man” and/or aren’t you too old to be wearing that shirt?” Whatever, part three!
With any luck, you find being yourself fun. I know I do. With the end game in mind, I no longer concern myself with being accessed from afar. I know that within a few minutes of conversation, value can be transmitted, established, and solidified. It’s conversation, honest interaction, that allows a person’s value to be understood. It is connection, human, face to face, that creates the opportunity for transcendence. It’s the combined powers of wisdom and patience that allow any ‘shirt’ to bear no weight in the outcome of one’s ability to bring gifts to the world. Going softly into that dark night… in my opinion is a “no.” “Roar till the end like the lion guy on my T-shirt,” say I.
So I’ll wear that dumb shirt, not cut the hair, give at every opportunity and smile on my way out! Oh millennials, how our conversations will be different a decade or two from now; when life has had it’s way with you. And so, with a grin, I raise a shot of fireball to you all while wishing you the absolute best of times!
Have thoughts on the subject? Please comment. Life is bigger and better with shared experience!