Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Near Life Experience

Aotearoa: Maori for "land of the long white cloud" or, as most Americans know it, New Zealand. As glorious of a country as this is through the window of a coach bus, we figure that while free falling from thousands of feet up, it's probably another thing all together. 

It is.

An inactive volcano in NZ from our coach bus window.
A short drive from downtown Auckland, I arrive with a few friends at what appears to be a tiny renovated farmhouse. It doesn't look like the kind of skydiving operation I had envisioned, but sure enough, nestled inside is a quaint little office with some friendly Kiwis eager to get us up in the air. We sign a few papers and they hand us jumpsuits.

"Is everybody ready?!" Our instructor/tandem jumper, Kyle, claps his hands together as we walk outside where we'll wait for our turns to go up in pairs. But there's an odd number of us, so I volunteer to go up "alone" with the tandem jumper.

Are we READY? HA! Is that it? No more preparation? No more safety precautions to be aware of? What kind of place is this? I feel like this isn't how skydiving would be in America.....

No, I am NOT ready...I muse, aloud. What if my parachute doesn't open?? What if I get tangled up in it and strangled?? What if I land wrong and break every bone that matters?? Nobody briefed me on these things. I hear about stuff like this in the happens all the time!

Kyle just laughs. I watch the first of my friends board the plane as I step into my jumpsuit and try not to think about how many people have probably pissed in it before I got here. 

I'm the last of our group to take the plunge. It's a very tiny plane, barely big enough for me, the pilot, and Kyle. How is this possibly safe? What am I doing? I mean, I did just watch all of my friends land safely, each with a mile-wide Cheshire grin....but I also recognize that statistically, this lowers the chances that I'll come out alive.

My heart is like dubstep as I take a "seat" in the back of the "plane"....or more accurately, replace "seat" with "3x3 space on the floor" and "plane" with "remote-controlled toy aircraft." Kyle starts buckling himself to my jumpsuit. He's making quirky conversation with me but I'm not really listening. I'm too busy hoping he's as good at multitasking as he claims to be at jumping out of planes. I really don't want him forgetting any buckles due to a little one man comedy routine.

The pilot starts the plane off down the runway and we quickly get off the ground. As we're ascending, they're both talking to me but it doesn't matter--I can barely hear them over the sound of the "plane" and even if I could, I wouldn't understand their thick Kiwi accents and lingo. Great. Now I won't even know I'm dying until I'm already dead because they're probably telling me "Open your parachute when ___________" or "whatever you do, do NOT __________!" or something equally imperative and I'm going to accidentally do the exact opposite of what they say and I'll end up in a pile of my own bones and I'll never graduate from college and I'll never get married and I'll never ha----------- LOOK OUT THE WINDOW! Kyle yells over the cacophony of the engine's hum and my thought hurricane. I turn my head to look.




So this is what astonishment feels like. After all these years, I hadn't fully grasped it until now. I lift my goggles up off my face and blink several times to regain my composure. We're only 9,000 feet up but we can see both coasts simultaneously. We continue to fly in circles to soak up the view of radiant fields dotted with puffy white sheep more numerous than the country's human residents. I am overwhelmed by the brilliance of the green rolling hills that wrap themselves around the land. The vast vividity of this green is surreal...It's not even a real color. What I'm seeing here, this is Photoshop green. This beauty is even audible. Yes, the landscape below me is melodious -- A perfect angelic choir in symphony with God's giggle. Am I dead? Because this is exactly how Heaven appears to me in my dreams. I am suddenly conflicted by an immense desire to jump and a longing to stay up here where I can see this until my heart beats its last.

Me and Kyle
Luckily, I don't have to stay conflicted for long. Kyle has now fully attached himself to my back and begins scooting us towards the door. I hastily pull my goggles back down as he opens it. He does not ask me if I am ready. He flings us outside and immediately grabs on to a part of the plane that juts out from the side. I'm startled for a second until I realize that nothing is wrong- that he actually meant to do that. We float horizontally alongside the plane for a moment or two, billowing in the wind like some creepy human flag. And then he lets us go. Again, he does not ask me if I am ready. Good thing, too, because I'm probably not. What is "ready" anyway?

We fall.

It is everything I imagined it would be and it is everything I did not imagine it would be. Do you ever have a moment in which you tell yourself, "There has got to be more to life than this"? For me, this is a glimpse of the "more." A glimpse of the better things to come. This is not the near death experience I'm fearing it will be, but rather the near life experience I'm hoping for.

After about sixty seconds of what feels more like floating than free falling, Kyle opens our parachute.  He eventually hands me the reins and lets me direct our path back down towards Earth. My joy is effortless.

We land. And despite the illusion of Heaven, I'm not dead. In fact, I'm even more alive than before. As AndrĂ© Gide puts it,

"One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time."

I wholeheartedly believe that the enrichment of a new perspective is always worth the fear of experience. And with each new perspective I am lucky enough to taste, I will have grown. Never to be the same. 

On the way home we all gush about our jumps. Some of us complain of sore groins from the harnesses. Some of us report having seen a double rainbow as we fell. Our friend, Eddie, contributes, "That was so scary! Skydiving makes Halloween seem like nothing!"

Oh, what I wouldn't give to relive that jump from Eddie's perspective!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Moral Compass of My Youth Vs. The F Bomb

The first time I said "fuck" I was around 8. I was climbing the wooden fence in our backyard, alone, when I fell from the top. Flailing downwards, I said it. Out of nowhere. I had barely just learned it so I was shocked that I'd even thought of it in that moment. I was the only witness to this seemingly horrendous misconduct. I had said it quite softly -a whisper, maybe- but nevertheless, I immediately felt a sting of guilt far more painful than the impact from the fall. I was so ashamed that I got up and locked myself in the bathroom where I poured liquid hand soap into my own mouth to "clean" it out. I remembered once seeing a family friend do this to her son when he had cursed. But even more relevantly, this is the same punishment Ralphie suffered in A Christmas Story so obviously it was, you know, the right thing to do. I sincerely thought it was the only appropriate atonement for cussing.

Fast forward a few years to fourth grade. I was sitting on the bus, (the best bus), Bus 2, in the school parking lot, waiting for all the other kids to sit down so we could go the heck home. Bus 4 (the crazy kid bus) was pulled up behind us, at such an angle that the driver, Ms. Catwick, was looking directly through my window at me. Ms. Catwick was a literal nightmare. Notorious for being the least forgiving, witchiest bus driver. I paid her no attention at the time, as I was busy waving and gesturing through the window to some of my friends on her bus. It was cold outside and I was wearing gloves so I thought it would be hilarious to make a fist and pull the middle finger of my glove upwards to create the illusion of flicking off my friends. For some reason, they got just as much of a kick out of this as I did. When suddenly, much to my mortification, Ms. Catwick, who had been staring in my direction the entire time, shook her head back and forth in a vigorous disapproval mouthing the word "NO". I immediately pinched the empty glove where my finger should have been in attempts to demonstrate to her my innocence despite my clever trickery. She was not amused.

The entire bus ride home, I was drowning in a mixture of anxiety, shame, and regret. All I could think about was how much trouble I was probably going to get in for having done that, and how stupid I was for not realizing Ms. Catwick could see me. My despair was visible, apparently, because once I got home and started to self medicate with my daily 5:00 dose of back to back episodes of Full House, my mom asked me if I was feeling alright. Even the distraction of the adorable Michelle Tanner wasn't enough to disguise my worry and discomfort!

I needed to do something to rectify the situation, or at the very least, put myself at ease. Washing my mouth out with soap didn't seem fitting. And I was going to need something more powerful this time, as there had been several witnesses. Eventually, I recalled a little sidebar message in my study Bible about a way to physically represent repentance by writing down a transgression and disposing of it. I wanted to give it a try. I slunk upstairs and scribbled about my deed on a piece  piece of paper. Then I ripped it up into hundreds of tiny pieces, threw it on the floor, and vacuumed it all up. I had considered throwing it in the trash but I was too humiliated even thinking about the possibility of somebody from my family rummaging through the rubbish, finding the pieces, putting them together, and finding out!

I felt better, but I still had trouble sleeping. The next day at school,  I was petrified that at any given moment, the wrath of God would fall upon me in the form of severe disciplinary action. Every school official that popped their head into our classroom that day made me slink down into my chair and wish I could crawl out of my skin. Every corner I turned, I feared running into somebody who might remember what had happened. At recess, our principal, Mr. Klaisner, came onto the playground and stood on the blacktop, surveying the land. I was absolutely certain that Ms. Catwick had sent him to chastise me so I was overwhelmed with relief when I found out he was really looking for kids who had been passing out candy cigarettes.

At the time, it was literally the worst day I'd experienced. Looking back on my life, I'm so happy that I eventually stopped requiring a ritual for my f-bombs and related gestures. What was once a deeply rooted conviction has turned into something light enough to be carried away by the wind. I was 100% certain that my rituals were necessary to make up for the horrors of profanity which was the most taboo thing I had been exposed to at that age. My view on profanity now would be more along the lines of: Rude. Annoying. Flavoring words to portray emotion. By no means an elevator ride straight to hell. Soap, ripped up scraps of paper: I didn't really need them. I had been confused and misguided into a bizarre, and frankly, kind of creepy, perspective. Back then, I thought I was required to find my own closure and experience a tangible representation of forgiveness. But by now I've realized how very possible it is to be 100% certain and 100% wrong at the same time.

For fuck's sake.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Tale of Star-Crossed Lovers

Once upon a time, a campus security officer was dispatched to a parking lot after a university employee reported hearing a female yelling shrilly from a parked car.

The officer approached the vehicle where a couple was in the middle of an all-out, heated fight complete with hysterical screaming. I cannot say that it was merely verbal as it had been reported that the female did throw her shoe at the male.

After calling in for back up and breaking up the fight, further investigation revealed that the conflict was over their Spring Break vacation destination. SPRING. BREAK. VACATION. DESTINATION. Supposedly MICHIGAN was a top candidate. Michigan is nothing to fret over, I assure you.

Anyways, an entire hour elapsed from the time the officer arrived on the scene to the time he cleared it. At the end of the call, the couple LEFT TOGETHER TO GO TO A BIRTHDAY PARTY.

Even further investigation revealed that the male's major of study was pastoral ministries. The female's? Communication disorders.

People, I couldn't make this stuff up.

Whether this couple lived happily ever after is still up for debate.

-The End-

A beach in Michigan. It's nothing you can't find in California where said university is located.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Parks and Wreck

About a week ago, I decided I should go for a walk in a park I had never been to before. For some reason unbeknownst to me, I had "yelped" this park prior to visiting it. The HORRIFIC reviews it received only enticed me. I became curious as to whether a place as terrible as the one described by the Yelpers could actually exist.

It does.

Immediately upon arriving at this "park," I noted that the "grass" was brown and the "water" was the color grass should be. The severely destroyed and uneven walking path would have mangled the wheels on my rollerblades (a very important detail I always scope out when exploring a new park.)  Yelp had also mentioned that there would be homeless people a plenty but I would hardly call them homeless considering the nice set ups they had going on what with tents and furniture and what not. More like permanent park residents.

***Side note: there was this adorable, shy little turtle. So the place has that going for it. ------->

After snapping up a photo of that preciousness, I continued hesitantly around the lake. By the way, there is only ONE lake despite being named "TWIN Lakes Freedom Park." Talk about a let down. That's only 50% of what I was promised!

I was wallowing in my disappointment when all of a sudden, a man began to approach me at a much quicker pace than is socially acceptable for a strange man to approach a female alone in a park.

"Can I ask you a question?" he said, trying to catch up to me.

I wondered to myself, ever so briefly, whether there was a question in the world I would want to be asked by him.

There's not.

"No," I replied, still briskly walking in the opposite direction.

"Just one question!" he was not dissuaded.

"I don't have any money!" I exclaimed, my walk turning into a jog.

He sped up his pace to match mine. "That's not what I was gonna ask. I was gonna ask if you'd let me buy you a drink."

"No, thanks." Running now. (It should be noted that it is not often that I turn down free alcohol.)

"Aw, c'mon! I don't see no ring on your finger!" he said.

"Good point. Pick me up at 7," I didn't say.

Looking back on it, this poor guy was probably just a parolee who wanted to see what a foot pursuit was like from this new perspective. Perhaps it is the fact that this place is where they turn felons loose that puts the "Freedom" in "Twin Lakes Freedom Park".... But that's neither here nor there.

What WAS there was "Park Patrol"! The cute little wanna-be cop car zoomed up right in front of us, as if out of some terribly boring film where this constituted an action scene.

"Is this guy bothering you?" Mr. Park Patrol asked me.

I thought the answer was pretty obvious based on the fact that I was being CHASED. So as not to offend my suitor/murderer who was still several paces behind me, I responded non-verbally. My facial expression said to Mr. Park Patrol, "YES I AM BEING BOTHERED" and then my mouth said to him, "This isn't a very nice park...." and then my feet walked the hell out of there.

When I had gotten at least half a mile away, I was still looking over my shoulder and keeping up a quick pace. I was suddenly startled when the driver of a passing vehicle yelled out to me because I was 97% certain that I was about to become the victim of a drive by. Let me tell you, it is in that brief moment just after thinking you are going to be shot dead that having drinks with a creepy man seems preeeeeetty tolerable. But I didn't die! It was just Mr. Park Patrol yelling out his window like a fool, assuring me that he "took care of everything" back at the park. Whatever that means, I care less than I know. But good job, Mr. Park Patrol. Saving the world one dateless, ringless woman at a time.

You can rest assured that when I write up my Yelp review, I'll merely be posting a link to this very blog post.

Twin Lakes Freedom Park is NOT Leslie Knope approved. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Guac

An adrenaline rush followed by clammy hands, butterflies, and a lump in your throat. A heartbeat like a conga drum, uncontrollable welling up of the eyes, and blushing cheeks. Aching in your stomach, goosebumps on your skin, and the hair on the back of your neck standing up. That's what being in love feels like, right?!? So then, I must fall in love multiple times a day!!!!!!! Let me tell you why.

1. Last night, I dropped a piece of my donut on the floor. (cool story, Hansel) ... Naturally, I still ate it. That's not the point. The point is, later on in the evening, I saw a gigantic spider and happened to stomp on it and squish it in the very spot I had dropped my donut. I thought to myself, "If I had dropped my donut AFTER I killed the spider there, would I still have eaten it?" After much less deliberation than probably should have happened, I chuckled to myself because OF COURSE I WOULD HAVE. What a ridiculous proposition to think there would be any other option. Love is feeling like there's no other option.
2. If all of my friends jumped off a bridge, I wouldn't do it. Unless I were friends with everyone in the entire world and they all jumped off a bridge. Then I would do it. Because if I were the sole survivor on this planet, who would make food for me? Love is wanting to die.
3. One day I was eating the most delicious guacamole on God's green earth and my life flashed before my eyes. This experience literally brought back memories I didn't know I had. Love is being crazy.
4. A friend was describing to me a date she had recently been on that involved cooking with her guy. She said, "there's something just so romantic about food." My first thought was: "I couldn't agree more. I DO LOVE food!" Love is being blinded to what's really going on around you.
5. I routinely hope that people don't follow their dreams unless their dreams are to work at Taco Bell, Chick-Fil-A, or McDonalds. If these people someday decide to make good on their aspirations to become actors, musicians, astronauts, etc...... I will be one dissatisfied customer. Love is sacrifice.
6. I stand firm in the belief that I'm single because I can't date food. Love is not acting on your desperation, and holding out for what you really want.
7. Lately, I have been daydreaming about quitting one of my jobs. I keep thinking to myself, "maybe I'll just stop showing up" (sidenote: I would never actually do that, but a girl can dream).... the number one thing that has kept me from acting on this fantasy is the fact that I keep leaving my ice cream in the break room freezer. Love is sticking around even when the going gets tough.
8. The only thing I would ever even CONSIDER consider cheating on eating with would be sleeping. It's a close second but it still won't ever happen. You know those moments when you feel like you might be too tired to eat and too hungry to sleep? Food always wins. Love is having a clear cut first choice not to be rivaled by even the most eligible runners up.

In conclusion... I'm 109% sure that my experiences with eating constitute what true love really feels like. Right? Love.... Gluttony. Toe-may-toe/Toe-mah-toe.

Nom nom nom. <3

We are all pathetic.  Some of us just really take the cake.