“Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.” So advised author Ray Bradbury. That strategy is too nerve-wracking for a cautious person like me. I prefer to meticulously build and thoroughly test my wings before trying a quantum leap. But I have observed that Aquarius is one of the three signs of the zodiac most likely to succeed with this approach. According to my astrological calculations, the coming weeks will be a time when your talent for building robust wings in mid-air will be even more effective than usual.”
Sept 23, 2015
I used to be afraid of leap-taking. If I had to pinpoint the moment that I thought it might be best to stop taking risks, it was during a spelling bee in the sixth grade. My first word was temperature and I summarily misspelled it in front of the whole school. Prepubescent Georgia pretended she didn’t care, but she was an eleven-year-old know-it-all who had gotten something wrong in front of a large group of people. I was embarrassed and angry at myself for failing. So I stopped taking leaps; no chance of failure that way.
When I was in college, I fell back into leap-taking. It wasn’t really a fall or a leap; it was a shove by my friend Dave, and it changed the course of my entire college experience, and my life. The landing wasn’t soft. It was rough. But oh—the adrenaline, the endorphins, the experiences.
By graduate school, leap-taking and me had a deep and powerful relationship. When one of my best friends sent me a Groupon ad for a small skydiving company in Wisconsin, I believe my first thought was:
I need to find $180.
Still in the middle of PhD applications—Pre-Great Rejectioning—jumping out of a small airplane sounded like a great symbolic leap into even higher education. It was to be my rite of passage into my academic adulthood. If you can jump out of a plane, you can write a dissertation. What ended up happening turned out to be even better.
The day after graduation, with two weeks left until my move to Portland, my friend and I drove out to the Illinois-Wisconsin border to jump out of an airplane. My tandem-jumper Sean was a six-foot-two South African man with a delightfully morbid sense of humor. With a job like his, he needed to scare and amuse me enough to keep me calm. He had a huge smile on his face when he asked me why I thought he had a bowie knife strapped to his side.
“In case you need to cut the parachute if we get stuck in a tree?” I offered naively.
“It’s for if you go crazy on the jump and I need to cut you off,” he retorted.
A few minutes before the jump, I asked him how landing would work. It had been the only thing we hadn’t covered on the ground during our ten-minute training session that had followed the half-hour waiver-signing where you had to initial your name next to repeated warnings that you would probably die.
Sean told me we’d worry about landing later, i.e. when we were no longer in the plane, which I laughed at for a few seconds.
“But seriously, how does landing work?” I repeated, more earnestly.
“If the ‘chute doesn’t pull,” he said, “it doesn’t really matter how you are supposed to land. You’re going to land either way. There’s no point talking about it until we know the ‘chute works.”
He had a point. A very basic risk of leap taking is falling flat on your face, although the result isn’t necessarily as horrific as smashing said face into the ground attached to a large, weird, but incredibly attractive man from South Africa. Did I mention that he was incredibly handsome? If I was going to fall to my death, it seemed like a pretty awesome way to go. But I digress.
The parachute worked. We landed safely. But, it wasn’t the rite of passage I had envisaged months before. It was an evacuation, a rebirth, a return. I went up a tired, burnt-out student and landed a regular fucking human being. It brought me back to reality. And it reminded me—in a weird, morbid way that only my South African guide could have imparted to me—that you’re going to land no matter what. So why not leap? Why not enjoy it? Even if you have no idea what’s going to happen. You can always figure it out in midair.
Today I took a leap with Bear. We adopted a dog.
He’s laying at the foot of the bed right now. He’s a snorer.