Facing Fear (Part 1)
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ~ Nelson Mandela
We all have things that we are afraid of in life. For the majority of my life, my greatest fear was heights (followed closely by snakes). There was a time when even climbing up a ladder was enough to make my body freeze up to the point my father had to come to get me down. However, any time I found myself trembling in fear because I had found myself in a high place, I always felt a second underlying emotion, frustration. Frustration at myself for being afraid. I don't know how my fear of heights originally manifested, but I do know it was not always there. I can remember being 6 or 7 and climbing up so high in the tree in Grandpa's front yard that I could see all the way across town. The older I got, the more frustrated being so petrified by a slight change in elevation made me. So when I was in high school I started frequently forcing myself to spend time outside my comfort zone. I would lay on my parent's roof and read, I started climbing trees again, and even did a little urban exploration. Nothing helped more though than when my girlfriend (now wife) wanted to go skydiving for her 18th birthday.
I had always wanted to go skydiving, even though that is an irrational desire for someone afraid of heights, so it didn't take her much to talk me into it. And I'll tell you what, it was awful! Five people packed in a little rickety Cessna airplane that felt like it barely made it off the runway when we went to take off. There is nothing more fear-inducing then watching the pilot of the airplane you are about to get on put on a parachute. Once we were at altitude I was the first one to jump on that particular load. No amount of preparation could have prepared me for the feeling I got when the door to that airplane opened. I would have sworn I had two bricks rubbing together in my stomach.
For those of you who have never been, there are two ways that you can go skydiving for the first time. You can do a tandem jump, where you are strapped together with your instructor and they do all the thinking on the way to the ground. Or you can do a static jump from a lower altitude, where you jump from the plane on your own. There is a cord tied to the plane that deploys your parachute automatically, and then spotter on the ground gives you guidance via radio. We chose the latter of these two options because neither of us was too keen on being tied to another human and thrown out of a plane. So when "jumping" out of smaller aircraft, like a Cessna, where the wheels don't retract you don't actually jump. Instead, they have you climb, hand over hand out onto the strut of the plane (the brace that runs from the body to the wing), and hang there before falling, like a human flag! Yes, you read that right, hang off the side of the plane while it flies through the air 3500 ft above the ground. And right up until I reached the demarcation point (there was a red line drawn on the strut so you knew where to hang before letting go) on that plane all I could think, "What in the **** was I thinking getting on this plane!"
However, as soon as I reached that red line and looked down for the first time since taking off. It was honestly the most beautiful thing I had seen in my life up till that moment. I was looking at the world from a real-life birds-eye view. I had grown up in the area we were flying over and I had never seen it look anything like that. Google earth view doesn't do it justice. A strange sense of calm fell over me and for the first time since I was a little kid I was not afraid to be off the ground. When I finally hear Aaron (not my wife) our jumpmaster call for me to release I didn't hesitate to let go.
Within seconds of the time I let go of that plane, my parachute had deployed. In those seconds I had fallen 500 feet, leaving the remaining 3000 feet actually under the canopy. Being under the canopy is, in my opinion, the best part of skydiving. The feeling of the wind pushing you where it wants you to go like the hand of God guiding you back to the ground. The sight of the ground coming up to meet you welcoming back from the sky. And the beautiful view as you slowly fall out of the clear blue sky.
If you haven't figured it out by now when I said that my first time skydiving was awful, what I really meant was convincing myself to actually go through with it the first time was awful. A lot of times, our fears are not as bad as we have made them out to be. As humans, our minds have a habit to defend their position even if it wrong. But by trying to convince others that your fear is justified you just further convince yourself that it is worth being afraid of. I am not saying I don't still have a fear of heights, I do. It is just a fear-based out of a respect for the dangers high places present. And I do not let that fear stop me from working (and playing) in high places. I went on to make 7 total jumps in my skydiving career and Erin completed a total of 32 gaining an A-class license.
Stepping out of your comfort zone once in a while can ultimately make life more comfortable overall. It doesn't take a courageous person to face their fears; facing one's fears makes a person courageous. However, fear is part of the human condition. Upon conquering your greatest fear, you have just made your second greatest fear the new front runner. Snakes!! Or there is always the possibility that a life change will introduce a new fear that makes all your other fears feel small.
For me, that event was the birth of my daughter. But more on that next post. For now, I hope this message finds you in good health and of a sound mind. I am just another confused father from Kansas wondering...
How did I end up here?