Everyone should jump out of a plane at least once in his life." This was the advice of my skydiving brother.
So when his son, Marc, was 16 and old enough to jump, I took him to the airport so we could share this recommended experience of a lifetime.
The first hurdle was signing the release form, which excused the skydiving club from any misadventures we might have.
Then the conscientious trainer drilled us in everything that could possibly go wrong during a jump, while continually reassuring us of our safety.
After several hours of jumping off tables and pulling handles on training harnesses, we were pronounced ready for our adventure.
Training had been engrossing, and being outfitted in a jumpsuit, helmet, goggles, and chute was exciting. But next we would have to actually get in the plane and jump out.
I wrestled with the fear as we talked with my brother and his family, who had come out to watch. I greatly envied their spectator roles and debated offering to let Marc's little sister jump in my place.
But then, after saying our fare-wells, the trainer came to escort us to the plane.
As we walked across the runway I found a relative sense of peace. I climbed into the plane and sat on the floor next to the pilot, with my back to the engine. I would be the first jumper.
The trainer had explained that they always have a woman jump first if there is one in the group. "Then the men don't dare wimp out," she said. And as the only woman in the group, it was now my responsibility to uphold the reputation of the modern woman. I couldn't wimp out either.
As the plane gained altitude, I resolved to go through with it, no matter what. And surprisingly, lost the last of my fear.
Once the decision was final, there was no reason to worry about it anymore. All that was left was to do it.
The trainer opened the door of the plane, and the wind roared in my ears. Out the door, the ground appeared as different-colored squares far below. The trainer checked my static line once more. On a first jump, the chute would be opened automatically as I left the plane, since new jumpers may not have the presence of mind to pull the rip cord themselves.
"Step out!" the trainer shouted above the noise of the engine and the wind. I put my feet on the foot stand outside the door and grabbed the wing strut.
"Swing out!" she said.
I slid my hands along the strut until my legs dangled behind me in the air.
I let go.
And suddenly, I was flying. I looked at the plane growing smaller above me and at the ground stretched out below me. There was nothing to give a sensation of falling, since there was only air streaming past me. I seemed to be floating in the sky.
I finally realized my chute had opened. I ran down the checklist - canopy open, lines straight, slider down.
Everything checked out. Then it became glorious!
I grabbed the two toggle lines that controlled the rectangular canopy chute, pulling on the left line to turn left, on the right line to turn right, on both lines to swing up in the air.
I pulled hard on the left line and spiraled around in the sky. I soared over the airport far below, then over the fields behind it. I could see the lake over the low mountains, and the city far in the distance. I was alone in the sky, soaring like an eagle. It seemed to last forever, and it seemed to last only an instant.
As the lake disappeared from view, I lined up into the wind to land. A pull on the toggles at the last second slowed my fall so I could land gently on my feet in the field.
I watched Marc reach the ground as I gathered up my chute. We'd done it! My brother and his family joined us as we walked back to the airport, talking about their view of our jump. They seemed to be doing most of the talking; Marc and I remained fairly quiet. I knew I just didn't have words great enough for what I had experienced.
We turned in the chutes, drove back to our homes, and went back to our lives. But somehow, I seemed to see myself from a new height.
My brother was right. Once you've had the sky to yourself, you never completely come back to earth again.