(The Gift of Being Present)

We look with uncertainty
Beyond the old choices for
Clear-Cut answers
To a softer, more permeable aliveness
Which is every moment
At the brink of death;
For something new is being born in us
If we but let it
Ann Hillman

“I could die Thursday.”  Those were my waking thoughts on a Tuesday morning as sounds of birds singing and ocean rumble filled the bedroom in my beach home.   It wasn’t a depressingly fatalistic thought randomly pulled from the caverns of my psyche.  It was a sobering reality of my choice of activity for the week.  Thursday I was jumping out of a plane.

I’ve always wanted to experience the free flying soar of a bird, gazing over the world unencumbered by airplane window rims and endless wing span.   There seemed to be a higher calling to feel the air bathe my face and float with the clouds.

Since it was my sixtieth year on earth, it seemed like the time to give it a shot.  So I signed up in June.  I had a month to plan, but I didn’t.  And then I had two days to come to grips with an air flight that had no protection of airplane walls.
Mortality belongs to anyone else.  Once in a while there is a realization that my days are numbered, but numbered only in quadruple digits.  Jumping out of a plane suddenly brought a potentially much shorter time span.  Death might be imminent and I better be ready.

In a spiral notebook my service was planned and my art, my books and my clothes were assigned to a list of people who may want them or could distribute them accordingly.  As the words spilled out on the lined pages, I realized who mattered in my life.  I realized what beauty I had and wanted to share.  With a free associative flair I allowed the faces of those who truly rested in my heart to become stewards of my worldly goods.  A trip to Walden Pond was gleefully planned for family to take my ashes for distribution among the chickadees and deep red maple trees.

Gratitude filled my soul about my rich and juicy life, but thinking of jumping from the plane caused my solar plexus to quiver.  I’ll live lift to the fullest, just in case.” I told God.  “If you could send a reassuring sign that I should do this, that would really be great.”

Standing at the edge of the ocean, I opened my eyes to its power.  Wave after wave came up to my feet, lapping at them playfully, always returning to remind me to be conscious of its deep and outstretching waters.

Chats with my loved ones became even more frequent.  Conversations had more depth than usual, allowing for affairs of the heart, rather than the mundane of the every day.

Once while driving a neighborhood road, a young buck pranced across the road foraging for food.  A neighbor slowed traffic to keep it safe as we watched in awe of his strength and beauty.

Colors deepened around the hills and the lush foliage of the coastal mountain range seemed just a bit more vibrant.

There was no doubt in my mind that I would jump, it was fine.  The signs were there, like a beautiful card sent by the Universe that the world was perfect and so was my decision.

Finally, Thursday came.

The decision to jump could no longer be altered.  Friends came to see me dive, gathering under a tent by the airfield.

Waiver after waiver was initialed, disclaiming any liability of crushed skull, back, feet or arms.  Dying began to be a preferable outcome to the myriad of disabilities for which I could not blame the airfield.  A whimper began in my belly and quickly ascended into my vocal cords as I read and initialed.

“You are not selling me on this” I stated in a voice that squeaked.

“It’s a litigious society” the airfield official brusquely retorted.

Walking to the plane strapped into the appropriate gear took me by my friends.  Looking at their worried faces, all I could say was “remember I love you”.

The mantra “Thy Will Be Done” began to chant in my head, repeating my desire to let God carry me in His hands.  The plane climbed high and hovered against the blue sky.  My prayer continued.  It was honest.  It was authentic.  It was the letting go of my lifetime.

The large side panel of the plane opened with a clang, the cold air filled the cargo unit coldly and intrusively.

My tandem partner scooted me to the open panel and advised me to wrap my arms to my chest and lean my head back against him.  “Thy Will Be Done” I uttered…………………………………..

I leaned back…………………………

At thirteen thousand feet the air smells and tastes like ocean.  Genesis tells of the firmament lifted from the earth’s waters into a “canopy” of heavens.  “It’s true” my mind said as we sailed through the cold and salty sky and the wind stippled my face with lightly tapping fingers.

There was no more thought of the future, no concept of the past, falling through the air was being totally an experience of the present, and God carried me through the atmosphere as I gazed at the world with wide open eyes.  Flying in partnership with the universe, the world greeted me with a cheer and a wave.  My Mother the earth perfectly partnered with the clear blue sky, the far and wide stretch of green and brown patchwork ground, the majestic mountains bowing to me in welcome, and the sounds of silence with just a hush of wind caressing us, holding us as we flew unencumbered.  There was no terror, simply peace at experiencing the world in its glory so completely.

When the parachute pulled me upright, I felt the sadness of endings.  I would soon become earth bound once again.

As we lowered closer to the earth, I could see small beings waving joyously at us.  I knew I was coming home to my life.  Gratitude filled my heart, for the world I had seen in its total unobstructed beauty, for the people who waited my return with love and relief, for my “new best friend David” who guided me gently to the ground.

There was a death that Thursday.  It was a death to fear of the unknown.  The greatest gift was the resurrection to living completely in the moment, reminded lovingly of the wonder of a world that sustains us; even when we are too busy living to notice.

On a large piece of paper taken to the airfield are signatures from each of my friends in attendance.  Some wrote short phrases, some wrote prose.  One statement still sits like a beacon on my heart:

“You are nutz.  I love you”

Being earthbound isn’t all bad.

Posted in: Spiritual Journey

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