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San Clemente Journal

“Mister, you have to let go of the plane.”

Sep 05, 2017 10:56AM ● By Don Kindred

Jump out of a plane. Check.

By Don Kindred

Those were nine words I never expected to hear.
I had already said no. My 83-year-old father, my son, my brother, my wife and my nephew had all joined forces the night before to try and persuade me to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. I only agreed to take pictures. It wasn’t just my deathly fear of heights; it was just never on my bucket list.  Yet, in less than 14 hours I found myself climbing slowly to 13,000 feet in a shaky plane with an open door. I’m strapped in the back to a young man who I’m quietly praying harbors no death wish. My mind had already been dialed back to numb before I’m scooted to the edge of safety where my legs are hanging, literally, outside of the plane. My left hand is unconsciously life-locked at the top of the doorway, while my eyes take quick, fretful glances down to earth, just a couple of miles away ...  and then the tandem guy taps my arm and calmly says, “Mister, you have to let go of the plane.” 

So I fall. Like that tiny bird taking his first flight from the nest, it is the ultimate test of faith. 
I had faced my own mortality long before and comfortably accepted the worst. But I’m not falling out of a tree, here. I’m falling from the freekin’ sky, face first at 120 miles an hour. 
The skin on my cheeks flap like the flag on a windy 4th of July and my nostrils open up like twin satellite dishes. But what a ride! 

Will Smith had once described it as “bliss,” to me it was a rush. This effortless act of simply falling produces such an unexpected exhilaration that the ultimate pop of the parachute becomes a welcome disappointment. But that’s when the bird catches air, when the roller coaster turns into the Ferris Wheel. The parachute floats like a Disneyland ride that only descends. And the view of the Pacific Coast from that perspective is one that few get to witness without a window. 

The landing was good. I jumped, I swore, I threw a fist-pump to the sky, I kissed the ground. 

And then I flashed on all those times I had been here before. Back when a younger man faced his fears instead of accepting them. The first jump off the high dive, the first public performance, the first game ... When that built up anxiety becomes a high that turns into this unbridled joy. 
And then it was done, added and checked off the bucket list the same day.

Perhaps overcoming a fear can be a life-changing experience, and I encourage anyone to face theirs, but I am certain of only one thing, I’m not going to be jumping out of any more airplanes.