Lately I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster. Oddly enough, it’s been a blessing.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to do go skydiving. Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane is something I had said a million times I would never do. Also on that list were getting on a horse knowing full well it would throw me off and moving to Texas. I’m 3 for 3.
The jump was in February and it was bitter cold by Texas standards. There were three flights that went up before me and I got to watch them come drifting back to earth as the anticipation built. When we finally boarded the plane, I told the pilot I would need his help. When the time came for me to jump, I was going to need him to cut the engines and yell, “Oh no! Something’s wrong!”. Then and only then could I justify jumping out of the plane.
In spite of my misgivings, when the time came for us to jump (I was strapped to one of the most experienced jumpers in the organization), I dutifully scooted up to the door and dropped my feet out. A photographer had swung out in front of us and was now hanging outside the plane waiting for us to follow. I looked down at the earth 12,000 feet below me and it reminded me of a model train set I had as a kid, complete with miniature houses and roads. As we began the countdown to jump, something caught me totally off guard: I had no hesitation.
We rolled out of the plane and arched into the wind and began a 7,000 foot free fall. There was no sound but the rushing of air. If I looked to the left or right or straight ahead, there was nothing there to indicate I was falling. If I looked straight down, all I saw was the earth slowly getting bigger and bigger. The thermometer said it was cold, but you could have fooled me. I felt nothing. There was no sinking in my stomach, no panic at the hight or fear of the lack of foundation. By the time we got down to about 5,000 feet and opened the canopy, falling felt almost normal.
Now compare that to a roller coaster. You work your way through a maze of a line, watch as other people get into the cars. Train after train the leaves the station with everything from fear to excitement in the eyes of its passengers. Train after train comes back delivering the same people with hair disheveled, adrenaline pumping and perhaps a few bugs in their teeth.
When you finally get on the the train yourself, you buckle in and slowly pull away from the station. For the next few minutes, you will hold your breath as the coaster takes you slowly up a hill, feel your heart sink into your stomach as you crest the top and plummet toward the ground, sense you eyeballs adjust in their sockets as you are wiped around a corner and maybe even loose all sense of direction as you are catapulted into a loop. If you look around you see trees or buildings or other structures whizzing by you in an unrecognizable blur.
There are two major differences between the roller coaster and the skydive: time and context. The roller coaster never gives you time to get used to one motion and the world standing seemingly still around you exaggerates every move. In a free fall skydive you have time to adjust to the idea of falling and the open sky makes it easy to believe you are actually floating instead.
Most all of my life has been an emotional skydive. Anything I felt was in isolation, managed and controlled. Certainly any emotion I expressed was gauged for context, appropriateness and presentation. Anything I felt that couldn’t be managed air might not be accepted was quickly and quietly tucked away. With very few exceptions, no one saw what was inside.
Sometimes that’s a good thing – it can give God a chance to shine through us. Usually it just means that we are weaving a mask tighter and tighter over our faces. When real emotion did emerge I was never sure what to do with it. People were often hurt as a result which just bolstered my resolve to keep it controlled and moving in the same direction; to continue the emotional skydive.
Lately I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster; and I just have to say, it feels good let myself feel things for a change.