Friday, October 19, 2007

Younger Days

This piece, while a bit over-earnest and self-conscious, still conveys some honest thoughts; I think I wrote this in 1995 [ed. note: upon re-typing this, I believe it was part of my graduate school application other thought is that Hemingway would disapprove of the overabundance of adjectives; I do, too.]:

Thoughts on the Occasion of Transitioning from Static-Line to Free-Fall Jumping

Now I have stepped from many an aircraft, and believed Fear to be conquered. But in each instance, I had been irrefutably connected to a parachute-pulling umbilical cord and, really, military operations do not engender such niceties as choice. This time, with nothing between me and the over-zealous embrace of Mother Earth but my own ability to locate an apparently shrinking toggle attached to an ever slenderer rip cord, with my toes over the edge of some shaking, shuddering whirligig with really no right to fly, with a man staring deep into my eyes and shouting "Go!" I was re-acquainted not only with Fear, but also with his bigger brother, Terror.

In that single moment, I foresaw the green-blue-green of my own mortality, understood Nature's primal exhortations pertaining to Fight-or-Fly, and ignored her logic. I jumped.

Many pursuits provide a sense of accomplishment: the quiet precision of the flute, the long reflection of the marathon, the simple pride involved in coin-collecting all suggest that my learning curve is not yet flat. The stage, too, remains exciting, although each word, each reaction is, by definition, scripted (how much more exciting to deliver, in one's best delivery voice, a briefing during which at any time anyone with metal on his lapels may feel free to spit a perhaps not very relevant question to which one had better be able, ex tempore, to formulate some intelligible response). In free fall, none of this matters.

Each time I go up, each time I fall down, I am struck with the utter foolishness of skydiving. To thumb one's nose at violent Death does not, somehow, seem very wise. In fact, it seems inevitable that such nose-thumbing will eventually attract attention.

A long-standing joke differentiates two types of skydivers: those who opened their 'chutes and those who did not. The day an incoherent mess materialized above my head, I found that composure and preparation can indeed prevail. I had, between the cutting of the main and deployment of the reserve, literally the rest of my life for self-assessment.

We allow ourselves so little influence over our lives that we often lose sight of the fragile distinction between being and nothingness, permitting the clutter of quotidian demands to dominate: bills, errands, perceived slights all conspire to cloud our vision. During the long, desert days of the Persian Gulf Conflict, I determined for myself the insignificance of many formerly consuming concerns. The remainder, what is meaningful, is a brief list, but encompasses themes from simple companionship to the tectonic interaction of divergent cultures. Returned to the business and busyness of modern America, I am not immune from misplacing my little list, but hurtling towards the hard ground serves to re-order my priorities and remind me tha certain principles--notably Honor, Duty, Tolerance--are more vital than comfort, or even food.

I am not, during free fall, aware of this narrowing; I am conscious merely, afterwards, of its having occurred.

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