I always said I wasn’t afraid of skydiving, but it was easy to say that about a situation I didn’t think I’d ever encounter. For example, I’m not scared of ghosts. But I don’t really consider the possibility of encountering a spirit of the dead even a remote possibility, so it doesn’t concern me. I kind of felt the same way about jumping out of a plane.
That’s probably a bad comparison. Skydiving is a well-documented and very real phenomenon. Ghosts, on the other hand, not so much. My friend Robyn once said she hates it when people tell her about seeing ghosts because she is forced to think they are lying or kind of crazy. For the most part, I share this opinion. I mean, my dad once saw a spectral Indian warrior standing in his living room in Ypsilanti, but he at least concedes that in the early 1970s he was living in a significantly different mental space than he is now—I assume he doesn’t mean in terms of ectoplasmic sensitivity. (While flying for the USAF, my uncle saw a giant, cigar-shaped craft made of reflective metal hovering over Korea that zoomed out of view when his plane approached—which he never officially reported as he was worried everyone would make fun of him. He told one other airman, who asked him if it had a cigar band on it. But UFOs are something entirely different than ghosts.) Intelligence is corporal. Why anyone would think personality persists after the person has ceased functioning is beyond me. Encountering a ghost would do more than frighten me. It would shatter my fundamental understanding of how the universe works. My whole concept of life, death, and human consciousness would unravel. Actually, if I started seeing ghosts I’d probably assume I had an aggressive brain tumor, or had accidentally consumed ergot mold from expired bagels, or was maybe just having some kind of psychotic breakdown. Skydiving did not do this.
My girlfriend, who is scared of firecrackers, balloons, and clowns, set up the skydiving thing. Apparently things that can make sudden loud noises or people in face paint concern her, but getting buckled to a stranger who leaps out of an aircraft at 14,000 feet is not an issue. Individual fears are wildly inconsistent. I agreed to do the jump, and only later realized I was pretty uneasy about it.
Filling out the forms and waiting around to be called for the jump was more agitating than the actual plane ride up. It wasn’t I was until high above the majestic cornfields of rural Illinois, my legs hanging over the edge of a jump-bay and my torso buckled to a tattooed guy named “Buzz” I’d known for about twenty minutes, that I had fight my hardwired instinct to grab onto something solid and not let go. This was not an acceptable death for me. Fortunately, I was able to dump over the side without attempting to save my own life.
As I said, the skydiving experience is pretty well documented. Aside from a brief slippage of my goggles, it went off without incident. I’d like to do it again, with my own pair of goggles, and in a headspace where my brain wasn’t more or less scrambled by overstimulation for about half the free fall.
Sometimes I dream I can fly. I never had these dreams when I was kid, and for much of my life assumed this was something people said they dreamed about but never actually did. I only dreamt of falling. I never dream of falling anymore. I dream of people who are gone; it is the only time I see ghosts, and I see them often. I dream I can jump into the air and walk on nothingness into the sky. I float down like a leaf on the breeze. Now, in reality, I’ve flown and fallen. I’d like to do it again. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll even want to do it alone.