In the door! GO! Seemingly simple words, unless they’re coming from your skydiving instructor and you’re about to jump from an airplane thousands of feet above the ground.

Paul Wong
Paul Wong

In that case, four little words evoke a million emotions.

But I didn’t have time to meditate. When the instructor tells you to jump, you jump – you’ll have plenty of time to deliberate while you’re floating through the clouds … or plummeting toward Earth after your parachute malfunctions, whichever the case may be.

So why was I taking the risk? Why not keep my feet firmly planted on the ground, like a normal, sensible person?

Actually, I’m not sure why I decided to try skydiving. Maybe it’s because I’ve always wished I could fly. As a kid, my favorite dreams were those in which I was somehow blessed with the gift of flight. I would zip through the air like nobody’s business until I came crashing down to earth at the sound of my alarm clock.

Those dreams may never have been (partially) realized, however, if it weren’t for one of my good friends, Meepee (don’t ask). Before I left for Scotland, she asked me if I was planning on doing anything crazy, like skydiving, while I was here. The more I thought about the idea, the more it made sense – I’m already traveling halfway around the world; I might as well make the most of my experience.

Thus, the seeds of curiosity were sown, but the idea did not come to fruition until I arrived at St. Andrews. I was surprised to discover that the university has its own skydiving club, and this seemed like too big of a coincidence to ignore.

On the day of my training, the weather was abominable. Before I arrived in Scotland, I knew it had a rainy climate. What I didn’t know was that there are often blustery winds to accompany the torrential downpours, resulting in hurricane-like weather conditions. After being outside for merely a matter of seconds, your umbrella is turned inside out into some strangely contorted shape, and you’re getting shoved into the path of oncoming cars by brawny, bullying gusts of wind.

Luckily, our daylong training took place indoors. We learned all about the different equipment, procedures and techniques involved in skydiving. After building up our sense of security, the instructor proceeded to spend the entire afternoon tearing it down. He showed us countless photographs of possible parachute malfunctions. My personal favorite was the picture of blue sky and puffy clouds, which demonstrated what you would see if your parachute didn’t even come out of your pack. Heartwarming.

I spent the entire weekend at the skydiving club, waiting to see if the weather would clear up. But, alas, the weather gods were not feeling very charitable (or else they had a personal grudge against me for waving my now unrecognizable umbrella and yelling obscenities at them), so I was forced to wait until the next weekend. When the following Sunday arrived, the weather and my mind were relatively clear. I wasn’t scared – I was just desperate to get it over with.

After waiting for a few hours, we finally got to suit up. Wearing yellow jumpsuits and helmets, we resembled larger-than-life bananas. Bananas that would be falling from the sky in a matter of minutes and hopefully not becoming banana splits.

The plane was tiny, and six people could barely fit inside. Somehow, amidst all of the elbows and shoes and helmets, we were supposed to make sure our parachute didn’t accidentally eject. I can safely say that the instructor’s parachute was securely tucked away, if only because my face was smashed up against his backpack for the entire ascent.

I had hoped to jump first, but it was not to be. I supposedly weighed the lightest, so I was the last student to jump. After inwardly scolding myself for not eating enough Twinkies, I watched my companions disappear one by one out of the plane door and started to feel a little queasy.

But as I situated myself in the open doorway, my nervousness blew away with the whipping winds. Before I knew it, I heard those four little words. In the most exhilarating moment of my life, I quickly and mechanically pushed away from the plane. It was only a matter of seconds before my parachute launched, and I found myself looking up at a beautifully perfect parachute and looking down at a beautifully imperfect world.

Once I was leisurely floating through the air, I was overwhelmed by emotion. At the same time, however, I experienced an incredible peace. Peace that I had to travel 3,500 feet above ground to find. Peace that I doubted I would ever find again. I savored every moment.

Seeing the fields and ocean below gave me an amazing sense of perspective. Here I was, a speck in the sky, suspended over an idyllic and serene countryside. There were no traffic jams or alarm clocks or exams – just gorgeous scenery for miles and miles. Even the sheep were small, unobtrusive white dots patterning the fabric of the landscape.

Looking up at the sky, I also remembered something my friend Tom had asked me a couple weeks earlier. While we were walking back to our dorm one night, he inquired whether the stars were the same in Michigan as they were in Scotland. No, he’s not an astronomy major.

After a few minutes in heaven, I clumsily landed on the grassy runway, right before the plane was supposed to land. Maybe I should have stopped my reveries for a moment and focused on steering my parachute … At least my landing wasn’t as embarrassing as my friend Linda’s experience, though. Apparently her parachute wouldn’t deflate, and it dragged her halfway across a field before two men rushed out to help her. Now that’s what I call a landing!

Thanks Meepee, from one piece of fruit to another!

– Bethany Root can be reached at blroot@umich.edu.

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