“I’m more than a bird, I’m more than a plane, I’m more than some pretty face beside a train.”-Five for Fighting
My mother tells me that the project has turned into a way of outdoing myself each week–which isn’t a problem, but rather an observation. I think that means it’s working. With each activity, each new risk, each new adventure, I gain more confidence in myself–and in the word yes. I’ve taught myself to refuse the word no, when it comes to just going for it. And that is a milestone in itself.
This week I’ve said yes to hang gliding in Middletown, New York for my first hang gliding experience. After signing the paper work that says if I die, I won’t sue, I get into the glider, and prepare for take off. And even though, I’m secure in the aircraft, I feel free–free to soar, free to fly, free to live.
We shoot into the air, and I can feel the brisk cold wind rush past my face. I watch as our altitude continues to climb: 500 feet, 600 feet, 1000 feet, 1500 feet, 2000 feet, and then our peak altitude 2700 feet. . My instructor tells me I can take my hands off the grips, and so I do. I put my arms out as if I am a bird–and I shut my eyes. All my thoughts disappear. I’m floating–left , right, down, and then back up again. My eyes are still closed but I can see clearly that this is where I belong–up in the clouds. I open my eyes back up, and I take in the world around me. I don’t want to lose this feeling–this feeling that nothing can knock me down, this feeling of being able to hold the entire world in my arms and hug her tight–this feeling that I am flying–this feeling that I am living. I continue breathing it in. I smile at the video camera–I wave to the traffic below, as if they can see my little hand way up high–I laugh with my instructor –I admire the beauty of the earth. And as we start our descent, I close my eyes, once more, and hold on tight. I hold on tight to this memory–to this moment–to this feeling.
The truth is that if I had never set out on this quest this year; I wouldn’t be in Middletown, New York in a hang glider harness on a frigid fall day in November– the coldest day they’ve taken the aircraft out yet this season (even the plane engine for our tow didn’t want to start right away!)– But I did set out on this quest year–and I did end up here in this harness on a frigid fall day in November–and I did give myself permission to do all these gravity-defying activities—And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Close your tired eyes-Relax and then-Count from one to ten-and open them-All the heavy thoughts will try to weigh you down-But not this time-Way up in the air-You’re finally free”-Owl City
If I had told you that jumping out of a plane was on my original “52 hobbies in 52 weeks” list, I’d be lying. But after piloting a plane–and realizing how free I felt way up in the air, I knew I had to take the dive–the sky dive that is–and see what it really felt like to spread my wings and “fly.”
And it felt amazing.
David and I first booked our skydiving adventure to happen a couple weeks ago, but after Hurricane Sandy came through, we had to reschedule twice. And it’s a good thing we did. We were fortunate enough to jump on a day in Mid-November with well above average temps: 70 degrees.
As we arrived at Endless Mountain Skydivers, I could feel my smile brighten. “This is it. We are going to jump out of a plane today…and that’s pretty effin spectacular,” I thought to myself.
Not before long, we were watching a safety video, suiting up and heading into our plane. There was no turning back now–not even just to pee (the harnesses had us strapped in for good).
As the plane began to climb to it’s peak altitude, I felt my heart begin to beat with excitement. I watched the world get smaller below–the houses now just little boxes, the airport just a set of white crosses in a field. I took a breath. This is the part where I should probably be writing an in depth acknowledgement of the jitters that one feels right before they take a dive through the sky; or the part where I should be explaining that I was becoming fearful of the worst–but the truth is, I wasn’t. I’ve learned this year that the more you let yourself “just do” the less you try to stop yourself–the more you go with your heart’s desires–the more your fears subside–and the more fun you have. And life is supposed to be about having fun.
As the plane began to climb higher and higher, the more I wanted to do this. And the more times that my camera guy asked me if I was nervous, the less-nervous, I became. This was just another stopping point on my journey–that could only propel me ahead. What happened next is as clear to me as the sky outside of the plane:
I take a look out the window–I slide on my goggles, I wiggle my jaw, the door opens to the plane, I flash a smile at the camera–and then suddenly–we are free-falling. As we drop quickly, I can feel my adrenaline beginning to pump wildly. I grin as the cold air rushes past us. “I’m flying…I’m really flying,” I think to myself. “I’m free, I”m free.” The fall is only 40 seconds long, but it’s the biggest rush I’ve ever had. As the world below, begins to get a little bigger down below, so does my smile. I feel like I am holding the whole world in my arms.
As our free-fall reaches it’s climatic end, my instructor pulls our parachute sending us briefly back up into the sky, before floating down to the ground. I begin to feel a little motion sick as the adrenaline continues to rush through my body. My adrenaline is screaming at me, “You’re nuts–you’re nuts, you’ve gotten me all riled up. Even I can’t handle this.” I don’t let my illness ruin the experience. This is truly one of the greatest days of my life.
And the truth is that this has been the greatest year of my life. And the adventure itself has been like one big skydiving trip. With each new hobby that I’ve tried, I’ve experienced a sensation of free-fall: including all the fears, all the anxiety, all the excitement, all the happiness, and all the utter joy. Every week–I feel like I have the whole world in my arms–and that’s a pretty amazing feeling.
I can’t wait to see where the rest of the year takes me.
A special message from The Hobby Hoarder during these tough times:
I can see the Empire State Building from the front door of my apartment building in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The lights are shining bright. Whether the lights to the south or the north of it are on–on any given night–I wouldn’t be able to tell you. But this past week I know that for a good portion of time, most of the lights south of the Empire State Building were off. And even still, now, many of the lights in Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, the state of New Jersey, and across the Harbor in Staten Island are off.
My family and friends in Pennsylvania spent days in hotels, office buildings, and at bars huddling for phone charges and heat. My professors and friends in Rhode Island watched as the Atlantic Ocean hurdled over the Narragansett Wall creating rivers on main roads, knocking out power to many, and destroying one of the city’s most popular restaurants–the Coast Guard House. Kids were off from schools–hospitals were evacuated–subway tunnels were flooded– the coast of Jersey was completely destroyed, and worse of all–lives were taken.
As we all know, Hurricane Sandy ripped through the East Coast leaving many states powerless and many residents homeless.
Up until today, all the devastation I knew was what I saw in photos–through Tweets, Instagram, and Facebook.
I spent the week working from home, feeling selfish that I wasn’t on the front line helping people–that I wasn’t there putting together recovery packages for strangers–that I wasn’t helping. I realized very quickly that even if I wanted to be on the front line–my help would be exhausted shortly as my strength is not in my arms, but rather in my voice.
When the power went out, for most, on Monday evening, all they saw was darkness. They lost the ability to watch thew news–to follow Tweets–or to get Facebook updates. I kept power–and instead of sleeping, I stayed connected. I followed Twitter until my eyes dimmed, and then early in the morning, I texted my friends who I knew had lost power to see if they were alright. By the middle of the day I had heard from many New Yorkers, and several hometown friends in Pennsylvania. “Can you just update me–I have no idea what happened after it went dark.” “Are the trains going to be able to run?” “What happened?” “When will my power come back?” “How bad was it?” My strength was now my ability to accurately relay messages to them from various news sources including New York Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Morning Call, and the Daily News.
I found myself Tweeting updates–Facebooking the latest breaking news–and realizing that even if I couldn’t be out there in the Far Rockaways where homes had burned down–even if I couldn’t be in Staten Island–even if I couldn’t be in the basement of someone’s home emptying out water–I could be making a difference . I could be informing people.
So I continued informing people, looked for more ways to help, donated food and supplies to the Far Rockaways via friends with cars, and woke up this morning with one mission: Find a way to get out there.
I read through my email of countless volunteer opportunities to see which one I could get to by bike, foot, or limited public transit. Staten Island had a call for helpers in several areas, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to reach many of them without a car–and that I likely wasn’t strong enough for many of the things people needed. And then one popped out to me:
10:30AM: NORTH SHORE. Go door-to-door distributing helpful information about warming centers, power stations and recovery to North Shore neighborhoods still without power. Spanish speaking a plus. LOCATION: State Senator Diane Savino’s office, 36 Richmond Terrace right across from the Staten Island Ferry. RSVP firstname.lastname@example.org
I re-read the post. “Go door-to-door distributing helpful information.”
‘I can do that,’ I thought, and so I RSVP’ed right away. Soon after, Piers Morgan ReTweeted a photo by Stephanie Gosk from NBC of herds of New York Marathoners making their way onto the Staten Island Ferry–not to run their race, but to run to places that needed help. If these people were going to run 5-7 miles to the underside of the Island–I could sure as hell get myself, somehow, someway to the Staten Island Ferry and walk across the street, to do what I do best–Give information. A walk, a cab, a train, a cab, and a ferry ride later I was sitting in an office at 36 Richmond Terrace preparing to head out to neighborhoods that had been without power for days.
I realized in this moment–that a little help–goes a long way. As the temperature dips to close to freezing tonight, many people not only in Staten Island, but around the tri-state area, and points further north will continue to live without power–without heat. The information we passed around today informed members of the Staten Island community where they could go for shelter or warming centers. The information we passed along today–could save someone’s life.
I don’t like to preach. I’m more of “an inspire by doing” type person. But in this case. I don’t mind preaching a bit: A dollar you give–a minute you give–an hour you give- a day that you give–blood that you give–could save someone’s life. Many shelters in New York City are turning away volunteers BECAUSE THERE ARE TOO MANY. This is a GOOD–no–GREAT thing. It means plenty of hands are on deck to help.Maybe you aren’t into knocking on people’s doors and distributing info, maybe all the shelters are filled to capacity with volunteers, and maybe you don’t have the strength to carry packages of bottled water–but there is always a way to help–and always someone in need.
Oh and P.S. Cause I am a bit of a hippie. Don’t forget about Love. Keep Loving.
To my friends in New York City–My friends in New Jersey–My family and friends in Pennsylvania–and my Professors and friends in Rhode Island–and all those along the East Coast–This one’s for you.
Check out these places for more opportunities to aid in Hurricane Sandy Relief
“New Yorkers are resilient. They’ve seen the lights go out on Broadway. They’ve experienced bombs rumble under ground. They’ve watched their iconic buildings collapsed. And each time they’ve risen to the occasion to come back—to reassemble—to regain their composure—to help a neighbor—or a friend—or the elderly—or a child. New York is filled with people who fight battles every day to survive metaphorical storms. And today, with this very real aftermath of a devastating storm—New York is still filled with those people—those same resilient people. And I know we’ll all get through this, together. New York City is our home–and it’s not going anywhere–and neither are we.”
I imagine that learning to walk must have been the scariest moment of my life to date, even if I never formed a memory of it. Tiny feet pattering–a bruised baby bum–a dizzying disaster. Thank goodness, that as children, we have a hand to hold, and someone to help us back up.
As I cross the wire set up at the Trapeze Loft, I suddenly feel like a child again, as I desperately reach for a hand to hold.
“You can let go,” I say as I grasp Debra’s hand tighter. We laugh. At this point, she’s not holding my hand at all. I am squeezing her thumb with all my might. “I swear I’ll be fine if we just let go,” I forcefully say as I finally go to release her hand. I then yell, “Wait, no–not ready.” I can’t fathom the baby jumble that came out of my mouth as I learned how to walk for the first time.
I feel my hips sway back and forth. My arms wave, almost violently. “Wooooooah,” “ahhhhh” are some of the reactions coming out of me.
My instructor walks away.
“Where are you going?”
Debra adds that people get it best when she pays no attention.
She’s right–but not just for wire walking–but for life as well.
Even if someone’s not literally holding our hand–if they are near by, we know we can reach for them to help us back up. but if no one is around. Well then, it’s up to oneself and only oneself. Debra sits across the room chatting away. It’s only up to me now–and my two feet.
I race quickly–one foot at a time. I’m falling from one side to the other–saving myself and catching myself from an invisible doom below. It doesn’t look graceful–but neither does life at most points.
Either way, I am learning to walk on my own–the most important lesson there is.