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Jump! The thrill of falling through the sky

By Michael Sitzman

Section: Arts

April 15, 2005

Whats the most incredible, mind-shocking sensory experience youve ever had? (No, not that.) What I mean is: Would you jump from an airplane? I did.

I realized that life on earth is incredibly exciting, said Sam Nemat Vaghar 08 after a recent jump. Life above the earth is indeed exciting too.

Imagine it is last September. A large group of students meets at Jumptown at a small airfield in Orange, MA. Some are visibly nervous already, and describe the sleep they just couldnt get last night. Im fine;

the weather is glorious and Im meeting so many people. Then they give us the waivers…

YOU ARE PUTTING YOURSELF IN EXTREME DANGER! screams the paper, giving odds of 1:30,000 that Ill meet my end. A beautiful day to die, but my heart is beating faster as I sign. I think of my family.

All outside for lessons! Thirty minutes of instruction for an excited group. Each is to jump strapped with an instructor. A big, muscular guy gives the talk. I hear one of the girls say, I want to jump with him! How fear leads to bonding.

Then, the long wait. Group after group suits up and boards a plane to face the sum of their fears with feigned amusement. For me, quiet reflection is in order as the hours pass.

The plane flies far overhead. Its engines pitch lowers as the speed is reduced. I finally see tiny specks slowly drifting away from the plane. From 13,500 feet, theyre hard to spot against the sky. Within seconds, theyre visibly descending. After a minute they have become tiny angels falling to Earth against a blue vastness. Here comes one. Open, chute, open! I say. It unfurls. A soul is saved.

They twirl, they glide, their shapes become visible. With one final swoop, each descends to a few feet over a sandy landing area and makes contact with terra firma. Finally, its my turn.

The instructor and I suit up. Tight straps;

not a good time to be a boy! We wave goodbye to our friends, the have-dones and the havent-yets, and board. The plane ascends, circling endlessly. I ponder, trying to imagine Im a Marine landing for a combat mission. God Bless America. Im ready.

I hear the engines throttle down. The first jumpers leap out the door at the rear. I look out my window and see them drop, recalling a rollercoaster plunge, that weightless moment of madness. Oh, no…

Our turn! All is now a rapid blur of sensations. Im at the door, gazing straight down into a vision of insanity. An ordinary view from an airplane, but Im halfway outside in the cold, rushing wind. Every cell in my body is screaming, STEP BACK NOW!

[death]

What was that? No time to think. Let go of the handle, says the instructor. We roll out on the count of three. One, two

Over. Out. DOWN. That unbearable rollercoaster rush as we drop into the void. The excretive expletive I scream is not Geronimo. I arch as instructed and look up. Theres the plane, not receding, but stuck in freeze-frame. I look down.

Even up there you can see the earth approaching. Now I notice that weve reached terminal velocity, and the cold 130mph air is ramming into my lungs, drying my passages and making it hard to exhale.

[DEATH]

Its there, waiting for me;

I decide I am ready.

Dear God, Im falling to Earth.

Suddenly he pulls the cord. The wind and noise cease, and all is peaceful. My feet dangle above rooftops. Ive flown in every kind of aircraft, but none felt this natural. We glide and spin. A bit of fear once more as we swoop to the ground. Then we level out just two feet over the sand-pit. And the Earth reaches up, catching me gently. I am sitting in soft sand. Thank-you, God.

So thats it! Thats how it was. Perhaps youre wondering, Should I? In truth, you have no choice.

We all must jump. From the wombs familiar cabin we plunge into a cold world of incomprehensible sensations, becoming aware of our surroundings and essential helplessness. Our only challenge is to enjoy the ride before its inevitable end.

Michael Sitzman is signing off now. Have a wonderful summer. Maybe Ill see you on some beautiful day, perhaps in this world or in timeless Hereafter. Just look for me down by the airport hangar

In a place called Jumptown.

horseradish

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