Thursday, November 04, 2004

Doing the Para-Macarena

Twenty-two years ago, on my birthday, I jumped out of an airplane. How I got up the courage, I still don’t know, but I have had nightmares about it ever since.

It wasn’t the freefall to earth that got me: I had a parachute on after all and it was hooked to the plane so that it automatically opened after all of about three seconds. I rather enjoyed the feeling of gliding slowly to the ground, suspended by only a billowing roll of thin cloth.

Nor was it the landing that freaked me out: I had spent the previous day practicing how to bend your legs and roll in order to break your fall.

Rather, it’s the replaying over and over in my mind of the jump itself. That moment when I pushed myself out the door of the plane into the void, so many miles above the earth. It has at once been a source of consuming terror and ignoble bravery.

How did I do it? I have often wondered. And:

Could I ever do it again?

On our recent family vacation to Turkey, I had the opportunity to find out.


Skydiving for wimps.

You take off from a boat, not a plane, and remain tethered by a steel cable the entire time. At only $35 a pop, it sounded like the perfect way for me to confront my fears and live out the thrill of sailing high in the sky again.

Plus it was my birthday. Fate was surely speaking to me.

“This is your destiny, Luke.”

Still, we put it off until the last moment. The first day at our Turkish resort, we lounged around the pool, watching the other parasailers on the distant horizon. On our second day, we lounged around the pool some more. On the third day, Amir spoke up.

“I thought you said you wanted to go parasailing, Abba?” Apparently he’d decided he wanted to go too.

Invigorated by my thirteen-year-old’s enthusiasm, we trudged down to the parasailing office on the beach. But when we got there, the man at the desk shook his head. “Too windy...” he said.

“Oh well, we wouldn’t want to do something that isn’t safe,” I said, turning like the cowardly lion back towards the pool.

“ send up a tandem, that is,” he finished his sentence. “But it’s OK to go up solo.”

Before I knew it, Amir and I, plus his ten-year-old sister Merav, six-year-old little brother Aviv and my father-in-law Ron, were all riding the choppy waves in the parasailing outfit’s little red boat.

“You want to go first?” I asked Amir. I figured I’d gauge how tough it was for him before making a final decision.

Amir suited up. The parasailing apparatus, consisting of nothing more than a flimsy chest harness and a canvass seat that looked like it had been ripped off of a broken swing set, didn’t put me any more at ease. I stifled an instinctive desire to call out to Amir: “Stop, don’t go!”

It was too late anyway. He was already taking off. Before I could even look up, the parasailing operators were strapping me in.

Efficient little devils, these guys.

Despite the distance, it was clear Amir was having fun. As he was reeled back in to the boat, he gave me a thumbs up. “It was so great, Abba! You’re going to love it.”

Just at that moment, Aviv started to wail. “I’m seasick,” he screamed.

This was my chance to back out.

“Go,” my father-in-law told me. “I’ll take care of him.”

I stepped tentatively towards the platform where I would replace Amir and be connected to the rainbow colored parachute that was inflated by the wind and speeding direction of boat. Hands guided me swiftly and then, with a whoosh, I was airborne.

The take-off, the equivalent of my skydiving jump, was smooth. So smooth that my fears quickly piped down and I found myself soaring high above the water. A feeling of gentle calm and quietude that I had not expected washed over me. The resort grew smaller and smaller.

I was alone.

No people. No trees or forests like when you go for a hike by yourself. I tried to get in touch with powers beyond me. The peace of the moment spoke to me, saying: this is your a dialogue, communicate with me...

I closed my eyes. And a song planted itself firmly in my consciousness and demanded my attention.

It was the Macarena.

The resort entertainment staff had been playing the incessant ditty at the pool earlier, trying to provide the right environment for a game of water polo.

And so, here I was, when I should be thinking about God, absorbed by a Ricky Martin dance tune.

At that moment, there was an unexpected jerk. I looked up at my parachute: it was tipped off to one side. At least I think it was. Was it about to separate from my harness, I wondered?

I glanced down. I was no longer over the ocean but directly above a tall spire at the top of the resort’s main restaurant. If I fell now, would I plunge straight into the dessert buffet? Would the Jello cushion the blow?

The jerking jolted me again before settling into a gentle tug. I realized then that I was being pulled back in by the pulleys on the boat.

Down I went. Too fast it seemed. I was still over land. Now I was near the beach. Coming closer to the shoreline. And closer. My feet skimmed the bald head of a man in the water. Then the whole lower part of my body splashed into the water.

The boat sped up and I was catapulted back into the sky. I was close enough to see the parasailing skipper laughing. This was apparently an old standby and I had literally fallen for it quite nicely.

As I was tethered back to the boat, I made a soft landing. Aviv was whimpering now and fell into my arms as I stumbled back to my seat. And there was Merav, all suited up and ready for her turn. So brave…and only ten years old.

“How was it?” Merav demanded. “Was it scary?”

“Piece of cake,” I said. “Enjoy yourself.”

And away she went. No fears. Total joy. And why not? What was there to be afraid of?

Now, all I have to figure out is what we should all do for my next birthday. I’ve always been a little intimidated by rock climbing...

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