“How does one become a butterfly?” she asked pensively.
“You must want to fly so much you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”
“You mean die?”
“Yes and no,” he answered. “What looks like you will die, but what’s really you will still live”
–from Hope For The Flower
I will jump out of an airplane for the fifth time this Saturday. Just over five years ago, I never would have imagined that I could (or would) ever skydive, much less that I would do it again and again. I have several friends who also take part in Operation Freefall each year. Some of them dedicate their jump to someone or something each time. I've never done this. I've never felt the need. Oddly enough, I've never even taken much time to consider why I am skydiving year after year or what it means to me. I didn't even really enjoy skydiving until my third jump. Reading something that a friend wrote in regards to her upcoming jump, though, I started to wonder about my own.
Why do I skydive? At first, I did it to face one of my biggest and most powerful fears--the fear of heights. Then, it was more about facing fear in general. I was raised by a mother who had (and still has) many fears. In turn, she instilled fear in us kids. I allowed fear to keep me from trying a lot of activities that I may have wanted to try. I was afraid of getting hurt, of looking stupid, of failing, of ridicule, of everything. I made lots of excuses, but the truth was that I was afraid.
With my first skydive, I made a conscious decision to start dealing with my fears directly and honestly. My third skydive reaffirmed this decision. During my second jump, I experienced what is known as a hard parachute opening. I was jerked very hard by the chute and was in a great deal of pain all the way to the ground. In retrospect, I realize how lucky I was not to be hurt more than I was. I took a year off at the advice of my chiropractor, but felt compelled to "get back on the horse" the following year, when I finally had fun jumping. I credit my tandem instructor, Mike Hennesy for being gentle, kind, and funny and myself for asking for what I needed.
Last year, I decided to once again have fun. I vowed to smile all day. I promised not to let fear enter my mind or my heart. I knew what I was doing, this was nothing new, and I wanted to make it the best jump yet. I did. Fear was no longer the target of my attention and my action. To borrow terminology from behavioral psychology, I was switching from an avoidance goal (avoiding fear) to an approach goal (approaching fun). I was amazed at how a simple change could have such a huge impact. After completing my skydive last year, I felt joy--pure, uncomplicated, unfettered joy--for the first time in my life. I felt a happiness that I never knew was possible for me, a person who has suffered from dysthymia for most of my life. When I see pictures and video of myself from that day, I see a lightness in my face, an easing of tension, a genuine peace.
So, again, why do I skydive? Simply said, I skydive to feel alive. Before skydiving, I could easily access painful and negative emotions, but I wasn't able to reach and hold onto the positive ones. Now, I can feel joy and wonder and love and amazement and bliss--and not just when I skydive, but even in the midst of the mundane and in the simple, everyday happenings of life. Sometimes, I feel like a kid experiencing things for the first time. I can laugh at the most inappropriate times, and I can entertain myself for hours with just my thoughts. I can watch my cat chase a bottle cap around the house and think it's the cutest thing in the world or get down on all fours on the floor with my dog and growl and play with her like I'm a dog.
I skydive to experience my strength and my vulnerability at once. To trust someone else with my life requires both bravery and the ability to let go of control. One could argue that it also requires stupidity, but I would say that it's hardly stupid to want to squeeze every bit of living out of your life. I skydive to prove that I am capable of doing something that most other people won't ever try. I skydive to prove to myself that there are people who won't hurt me, who will protect me, and who will support me. I skydive to remind myself that I can let them.
I skydive for me! Though I do it as a fundraiser and an opportunity to raise awareness of sexual violence, it could be one of the most selfish things that I allow myself to do. My skydive has become a time when I take time off from work, I travel to a sunny spot, and I spend a few days with friends from all over the country (and the world). It's a strange sort of girls' weekend, but that's exactly what it is. Of course, we're a strange bunch of girls, so it's quite fitting. I could say that I can't afford to go, that I shouldn't take the time off from work, that my pets need me at home, that I should just skydive closer to home. It's illogical, impractical, and totally unnecessary. But, I want to do it, so I do. Skydiving gives me an excuse to indulge my desires, to forget (even if only for a little while) what I should, ought, and must do.
I skydive so that I can live.