As my 50th birthday looms closer and closer, I am struck by the fact that in all probability my life is half over (or more). I find myself picking up books titled, "The 500 Places To Visit Before You Die." I examine my life, and think of things done, as well as, things yet to do. I list my life goals, work on a life plan for my remaining years, and sit down and plan six trips to take in the coming year. Yep, this sounds like a mid life crisis to me!
So, I sit and ponder my life, and decide... I have to make a few changes. I decide... I need to break the mold - to do something completely out of character. Look death in the face and laugh. And then, it hit me....I learned how to fly at 16 years old, and every now and then, I would run across sky divers at the airport. My standard line was "you have to be crazy to jump out of a perfectly good airplane." I now knew what I had to do to stretch my life and break out of my rut.
I went home that evening to my own personal little goddess, and announced to Puddy that I would be "jumping out of a perfectly good airplane" this coming Sunday afternoon. As usual, she looked at me once again with a skeptical eye, thought for a moment and said, "absolutely not..., without me!"
For those of you who truly know my little unassuming, mild mannered wife of almost 30 years, this should not surprise you. She has learned to fly, traveled the world with me, bareboat-chartered and sailed around the Caribbean (she was the captain with the bareboat certificate), rides her motorcycle, has gone white water rafting, zip lined through the jungle in Costa Rica, been my spinnaker trimmer while racing sailboats all over the U.S., enjoys shooting automatic assault rifles, has driven big trucks, operated heavy equipment, bore our two children and raised them, put up with me (and my poor dancing) for most of my life, and, in general, has been a pretty good partner who is always up for just about anything.
So, when we showed up in Gilliam, Louisiana to meet with Bill Geaslin of Skydive Louisiana (318-464-5867), he was pleasantly surprised to hear that both of us would be jumping that afternoon. I lost the coin toss, so I went first. I elected to have a photographer jump with us, so he could get a video of the jump so we could laugh about it later. (If you jump, get the video!) Bill explained that if we wanted to free fall that we would have to jump tandem the first three or so times. I didn't want a static line jump because I wanted to experience the free fall, so I elected the tandem jump.
Bill, who also sells life insurance when he isn't jumping out of airplanes for fun, helped me into a "flying squirrel suit" with a padded helmet. He then fitted me with a harness arrangement that would connect us together just before we jumped. I walked to the small Cessna airplane with Bill, the pilot, and our photographer, and off we went. The climb to 10,000 feet, or almost two miles high, took about 15 minutes. As we climbed higher, my little heart started beating faster. I watched the altimeter slowly wind up to 10,000 feet, with butterflies in my stomach, knowing full well that my appointment with Mr. Gravity was getting closer and closer. Bill moved over and strapped himself to me, and we gave each other a thumbs up sign. The pilot cut the power and slowed the plane, the door was thrust up, and the photographer climbed out into the slipstream and held onto the wing strut just fluttering and waiting for us to jump. I sat at the door, put my feet on the step over the wheel faring and felt the wind almost drag me out of the plane. Bill leaned over and yelled into my ear, "READY." I said, "Yes". He yelled, "READY," again. I said, "Yes, let's go!" He yelled back, "YOU HAVE TO LET GO OF THE DOOR FRAME." I sheepishly realized that my survival instincts were in full operational mode and that I was hanging on for dear life! I let go, and then, out the door we tumbled. We turned a full flip and a half before I got oriented and realized that we were plummeting towards earth at a pretty good clip.
Later, Bill checked and said, "We are falling at about 128 miles per hour." We fell from 10,000 feet down to 5,000 feet before we opened the parachute. The photographer was just a few feet from us shooting video the entire time until the parachute opened. The wind buffeted my face and distorted it so that I looked like a cartoon character on the video. I've got to remember to put "face lift" on that list of things to do after looking at the video. After falling about a mile, in a little less than half a minute, Bill opens the chute, and with a sudden jerk, we are now still falling towards earth but at a much slower speed.
I immediately looked around for the photographer, and he was a little speck below us still racing to earth. As I watched him fall towards the ground, getting smaller and smaller, the thought of Willie Coyote falling off a cliff flashed before my eyes. Oh well, he seemed like such a nice guy. Then right before it seemed like he was going to make a big splat, he opened his parachute at 2,000 feet, landed and took more video of us as we slowly spiraled down, set up our approach and landed on the edge of the runway. It's been a couple of weeks since the jump and I still have a big goofy grin stuck on my face.
Bill ran back to the hangar and grabbed a spare parachute, put Puddy in her "flying squirrel suit," jumped in the Cessna and before I knew it was taking off again for his second jump of the afternoon. When Puddy landed, she too had a funny grin stuck on her face.
Ever since I jumped over into the second part of my life, I have vowed to make each day count. We just don't know how much time God has allotted to each of our lives, and we shouldn't waste a single one. While I like to think I have always lived a full life, I know now that I have been running around in 2nd gear. Look out world, I am shifting into overdrive for the second half!
Larry LaBorde, Silver Trading Company