[“I Ain’t Done” – Louis Barabbas & The Bedlam Six]
*I should have posted this earlier, but since this is my birth-month I hope you kind people will allow me a pass. It’s been a busy week in the most spectacular way possible.
Ladies and gents, I am now 28 years old. As of Monday, 3/19/18, I have entered my 29th year of life. My dudes, I am getting old. But, as they say, age is just a number right? Just an arbitrary counting system to assign a numerical value and therefore more coherent concept to the passage of time and, outside of the body’s obvious physical trek, upon each human’s progress through existence. “Growing old is mandatory and growing up is optional” as they say but there has to be some sort of comfortable balance I can reach, right? Somewhere between young/feckless and old/immovable.
I am not going to lie, my concept of self has struggled since I turned 25. The quarter life crisis is not for the faint of heart and is most assuredly a real thing. And then, my 28th year, 2017, was the worst year of my young life thus far… I did not imagine that at this point, this is what my life would look like. Actually, growing up, I was not one to envision my wedding or married life. I assumed, always, that I would be that awesome auntie to my friends’ kids. The friend to many who was alone but content. I thought I would be the woman who traveled the world into her forties and settled down at some point with the absolute love of her life… The person she had found she could not live without. So, when I found the person I could not live without at 19, I just thought I was lucky as hell and well ahead of schedule. Wrapped in the complacency of my relationship, I lost myself.
Well, it didn’t work out and it turned out that I could actually live sans said person. So, in the process of the hard hitting learning experiences that have followed, I have realized quite a few things about myself. This last year was one of absolutely shitty revelations that have led to both begrudging self realization and then deliberate but as yet (and likely continually, because who’s perfect?) incomplete self improvement. Most importantly, I have realized that I have relied way too much on others for my concept of self. I have essentially awaited permission for more of my life experiences than I would like to admit and the proudest moments I have had stemmed from my pure desire to do something entirely for myself and not for anyone else (not in a selfish way in a “screw the world” /”I won’t help others” capacity but more in a healthy “I do need to actually look out for myself”/”I am allowed to be a priority” way). I am an adult, powered under my own steam (well, mostly powered by coffee and fictional heroines but same difference) and I need to actually act like one. No one else can tell me what’s best for me.
It was nice, as a kid, to imagine that adults actually knew and understood, by virtue of age, what was going on in the world. Now that I AM an adult, I have realized this assumption to be nothing more than an immature and idealistic fantasy. I am an adult, as are the people around me, and not one of us actually or entirely knows what is going on. Everyone is working to “find themselves” and their place in this cacophony of weirdness we call life. There are no clear answers, only confidence (even in a “fake it ’till you make it” capacity) and an inherent (if not delusional) belief in your decision making ability.
Now, at the age of 28, I finally feel like my age matches my mentality and despite myriad confidence issues, I am leaning into happiness and self acceptance as much as possible. It’s a new world for this heroine (at least within my own story – though “no capes”) and I feel simultaneously like an infant and the oldest person yet living. I guess that’s the difference between learning and knowing. I’d like to think everyone feels this way to some degree and I am just slow on the uptake. Regardless, I am living for myself now, so what does it matter where on the sliding scale everyone else lands?
30 Before 30
So, within this “mission from God” type revelation (in which, I am most definitely Jake) and with my begrudgingly type A personality, I have created organizational systems for myself that will ensure that, from here forward, I live my best life. I have always had a written”Bucket List” to work from but death is a really arbitrary deadline. Therefore, a few months ago, I wrote down 30 things I want to accomplish before I turn 30 years old. These items are things that have either existed on my Bucket List for some time or they are things that I feel I should be able to say I accomplished by the age of 30. They range in difficulty from actually, for once in my life, finishing a notebook from cover to cover (I have an office supply problem, ok?) to seeing the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore for the first time, etc. Updates will follow as I accomplish each goal but on my 28th birthday I decided to literally throw caution to the wind and do the one thing I have wanted to do ever since I can remember… At 12:00 p.m. on March 19, 2018, I rolled/dove head first out of a perfectly good airplane and it was the most incredible experience of my life to date.
I arrived at Skydive Crosskeys and waited for, what I thought to be inevitable, panic to set in as I double checked my layers of clothes and walked through the door. Other than staff, there was no one else present as I watched a video about the dangers of skydiving, hosted by a wanna-be Z Z Top band member (but seriously, apparently he invented tandem skydiving – good on him), and then signed my name several times to statements essentially saying that if I died, they were not at fault. Meanwhile, I had yet to even have my coffee (mostly for fear of any upchuck experiences that might occur). Having signed away my life, I sat down and awaited my instructor, Matt. He approached me, introduced himself, and had me in a harness within two minutes… There was no turning back (at least for me, and for dramatic effect… In truth you can bail at any time. Except, I suppose, when you have already exited the plane). As he clipped buckles and tightened straps he looked me dead in the eyes and said “Are you nervous?” I responded in the negative, noting, still, that as a mostly rational human I probably should be. His response, with a totally straight face I might add? “Good, because I am! I have never done this before!” In truth, he has “done this” well over 3,000 times but that levity set the mood and allayed the tiny uncertainty I had popping up in the back of my mind. I was in it to win it.
So, after double checking my harness, giving me unsightly and uncomfortable goggles so I didn’t lose my glasses mid-free fall, and briefly noting dive and landing instructions along with an altitude meter, he introduced me to my videographer, Art, and walked me out to the hangar and the tiny red four-person plane we were to take. When we looked at the plane, Matt told me that when we reached altitude, I would step out the door of the plane and on to the small platform above the wheel. He would make sure we were connected at this point and I would crouch and roll forward … Oy.
So, the hangar door went up and four guys literally pulled/pushed this minuscule plane out onto the runway for take off. I was introduced to our pilot, Pico, as I climbed through the door under the wing and sat, cramped next to Matt, in the back. Matt told me: “Yeah, we just hired him this morning…” to which Pico replied “Well, they told me that if I could drive a backhoe I could fly a plane, so here I am!” and he switched on the engine as the door closed and we got ready for take off. He told us to be ready and then…
The plane didn’t start.
Apparently my instinct for self preservation is flawed (figures, what else about me isn’t?) because I just laughed out loud as Pico told Art to get out and jump on the propeller to get it started. “Nah man, I am not doing that” was the response so Pico said we would forget about it and take “the other plane.”
As we deplaned and walked to the loading zone, Matt told me how lucky I am that we would be taking this “other plane.” Apparently this aircraft we were now going to take was actually meant for larger groups of up to 18… and not for just three people. Despite the fact that this is still the smallest plane I have ever been in, I could not have lain across it comfortably, I essentially got the equivalent of a limo ride to the sky. Happy birthday to me! They guys laughed and talked in the ~10 minutes it took us to get to 11,000 feet, I chimed in when my tongue managed to come unglued, not from anxiety but from the sheer wonder of what I was about to do. Just after they pointed out the Philadelphia skyline in the distance, Matt checked our connection one more time and we slid forward on the bench as Art rolled up the plane’s side door and we moved into a crouch, hanging out of the side of an airplane over two miles above the ground…
And we were off, literally. We rolled forward into nothingness and an involuntary scream, one which I have never experienced before, elicited from some deep place inside of me as we somersaulted through the air and came into our dive position of legs back and bent at the knee, arms out and palms flat, chin out and head back. During the one minute free fall, I could only stare about me in incredulity. I can’t tell you I had fully formed thoughts or notions, only a sense of pure wonder and joy. I now fully understand the word “plummet” as I am pretty sure that is the only word that ran across my mind like it was on a rotating marquee. At 5,000 feet, Matt indicated that I should pull the cord for the parachute but moving my arms was not something my brain was allowing me to do so he did it for us and we shot back up and my breathing evened after the initial jerk and *woosh*. Mid air, Matt loosened my harness (HOLY SHIT, WHAAAA?) and then showed me how to direct our progress by pulling left or right on the cords attached to the chute. Like a tour guide (“If you look to your left…”) he pointed out Philly; the golf course nearby where they sometimes land for fun; Art, who had already made it to the ground; our plane pulling in for a landing; etc… I noted how much I enjoyed the crop circle style peace sign and smiley face patterns mown into the landing area, all while being amazed that I was having an actual conversation in the middle of the sky while attached to a dude with a backpack that erupted into a giant cloth – the only intermediary between us and some pancake-Liz/Matt-ness inflicted by gravity’s inevitable influence.
Since I have no chill, ever, as I have previously noted, I did not land gracefully. Matt reminded me, maybe 1,000 feet from the ground, what my landing posture should be (knees raised and toes pointed up) which I maintained well until he told me to lower my toes a bit so that we could heel-skim the grass as we slowed close to the ground. Ah, what an ideal world that would have been. Instead, my foot caught and I essentially tripped us. In the following video of my whole experience you can hear my “SORRY, SORRY, SORRY!” as we flop to the ground at the end.
Never one to be entirely graceful, this landing only made this whole experience more “me.”
I thoroughly believe that skydiving changed my life, as cliché as it may sound. I did it entirely on my own and entirely because it is something I have always wanted to do. Selfish, to a point, only because it has increased my use of “I” statements this week (in regard to my occasionally and begrudgingly spectacular self) and my desire to feed my own fulfilling dreams without waiting on someone else’s buy-in.
It’s been six days and I still can’t stop smiling.
An Added Bonus
As an added bonus to this amazing experience, I have to say I managed to round it out with an incredible week overall, starting with my favorite holiday.
SATURDAY – St. Patrick’s Day has always been my favorite holiday, not only because it falls 2 days before my birthday but, by heritage, I am Irish; green is my favorite color; no presents are required; AND it’s an opportunity to drink and engage with friends. Cool with it. So I began the day by enjoying a lovely dinner and learning the game “spoons” with friends old and new. I then met my brother and a few of his friends in downtown Phoenixville for some end of the evening shenanigans. At 10 p.m., there was no way of catching up, drink wise, with the group who had been bar hopping since 11 a.m. but I did my best. Watching the revelers was fun in and of itself but when my brother and I were ready to head home and we descended from the second story of Molly McGuire’s, on the corner of Main and Bridge, the band was playing “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by The Darkness, a personal favorite. I made eye contact with the singer, pointed at her, and began singing along as we went down the stairs and as I did, she pointed at me and then at the stage. I did a quadruple check, pointing at myself and looking at her inquiringly multiple times to ensure she meant it before ditching my brother briefly and making my way to the small platform. She gave me a green beaded necklace as I hopped up and then scooted over to allow me to sing which I did, poorly but with spirit. It was so loud in the bar, even at 1 a.m., I could not even hear myself though that was probably for the best. I did a hip wiggle and sang awkwardly into the mic for a few lines before high-fiving the singer and bounding into the crowd to meet our Uber. I was horrified and enervated.
SUNDAY – I went and saw the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Vertigo for the first time with one of my best friends.
MONDAY – The skydiving saga…
TUESDAY – Largely uneventful, but my only day in the office.
WEDNESDAY – Snow day, obviously in my honor!
THURSDAY – Drive to D.C. for a lovely and successful work event and then dinner, drinks, and snuggles with my best friend/sister of almost 15 years.
FRIDAY – A walk through my favorite places in D.C., including the Lincoln Memorial and National Gallery, with intermittent people watching, journal writing, and book reading while waiting for happy hour with friends.
SATURDAY – My birthday party. I told my parents I did not need a theme so I was surprised and delighted to return home and find that one (well, two) had been assigned: Googly Eyes and The Office.
The party was a beautiful success, despite my overall desire to have fun but not have an event be about me. I bounced from group to group of family and friends and was reminded of the love I have for them and vice versa. I know and love the most amazing and beautiful humans in the whole world.
Many many thanks to my amazing parents, wonderful brother, coolest-est family, and spectacular friends for being the best ever.
SUNDAY- This brings us to today. Where I sleepily binge watched The Office (hence the reason for one of my party themes) with an unceasing smile after hugging the last of the lovelies goodbye just after breakfast.
I’ve gotta say, life is good.
Despite the fact that I lament some of the ways life has worked out, I would not trade my age and knowledge for anything.
But perhaps most importantly, always, I will keep within me the little child of my early days. As I can, and despite my muddled brain chemicals, I will find inherent joy in each element of life. I will continue to jump out of airplanes like I’ll live forever, keep stick-on googly eyes in my purse in case of emergency (hence party theme number two), go gaga over each new LEGO series, snuggle in blanket forts with my asshole cat, puddle jump as often as possible, use sparklers for every occasion I can, geek out over the newest Pixar movie, and just all around allow the world to surprise and delight me in both its simplicity and complexity…
Because hell, I ain’t dead yet, and I don’t plan to be any time soon. But, when it does happen, I don’t want to have a shred of regret over a life poorly led.
Photo: E. Campbell (2017)