Bro. Thomas Crutcher
My first skydive in September of 2005 celebrated my 50th birthday. The second was on June 17th 2017 to raise money fora charity in Ballina, County Mayo, Ireland. The first jump was in Longmont, Colorado. The second in Longford, County Longford, Ireland. I kept confusing the two names Longmont for Longford and vice-versa. The day was perfect: sunny and warm. Two members of the Holy Hill Community accompanied me on this adventure, along with a red headed rock star named Bridget from Manhattan, New York who had just been performing in Liverpool and was on retreat for 2 weeks to simply Be and to celebrate her birthday.
Upon arrival, I signed some forms and we waited with a room full of other jumpers, including two women jumping with me for Ballina Churches Together. The number of young mothers who brought their children along to watch them jump was surprising, as I erroneously thought young moms were risk averse. There was one 13 year old boy who got the sky dive as a birthday present.
Bridget got out her guitar and sang My Cheri Amour. Everyone applauded at the end of it. Bridget Barchan is quite the talent, does regular gigs, and has lots of stuff on Youtube. We had been discussing music and Stevie Wonder and she learned the song for me. There was a long wait before my turn to jump, so we were told to go to lunch and be back in 2 hours. We Holy Hill four went to a nearby town, found a Polish deli and got the makings for a picnic at a nearby grassy area beside a canal. The weather, company and food were magical.
We returned to the Aerodrome and I watched a video and filled-out still more forms requiring that I accept my certain death with no insurance coverage. Since only two tandem sets could go up at one time in the Cessna 185, a lady from our charity named Caroline who had not jumped before went first. She landed an ecstatic walking advertisement for skydiving and wanted to go again soon. Rosamund and I waited to meet our jump masters and gear up. My job master was named Karl and was a veteran of 3400 jumps. He worked in Florida in the winter. It sounded like he enjoyed his life. I volunteered to go before Rosamund. We packed into the plane sitting on the laps of the Jump Masters to whom we were securely tied. The plane took off and the Altimeter spun round and round as we spiraled up into the blue. I was getting more and more excited in anticipation. Since two old friends I had not seen for years had just visited in the past two weeks, I assumed that meant I was going to die and never see them again. My mind is not wired to accept blessings with no strings attached. The other shoe has to drop after a great joy. That said, I was a really happy condemned man.
As we approached 8500 feet, the pilot counted down with his fingers 3 minutes then 2 minutes then 1 minute. We opened the door, wind rushing by. As instructed, a positioned my calves and feet under the plane and put my hands across my chest with my head back. Karl tumbled us out of the plane so I saw it looking up before turning over to fall face down. The skin on my face was flapping as we fell through the air at 120 miles per hour. Arms out, hands slightly forward, knees bent, feet up. During the free fall it occurred to me that rats are one of the few mammals that can survive impact at terminal velocity. The macabre jokes about human pancakes and giant spatulas needed to pick up failed skydivers took up a millisecond or two before Karl pulled the ripcord. Parachutes function as amazing brakes! The negative g forces are quite something to feel. Karl said “you belong to the sky now! He put some loops through my wrist to control the parachute. They work like reigns on a horse. Pull back to slow down, push forward to go faster, Pull down one or the other loop to go left or right. We took an especially steep turn which made us parallel to the ground that pulled me very tight into the harness. He let me steer toward some buildings below us and then took over and flew us across the river to a landing site. A final surprise was landing on our feet rather than sliding in as is more typical. The landing was quite soft. As we walked over to the equipment area I was glowing with delight, adrenaline and endorphins Off came the harness and I walked back to my friends in the orange jumpsuit for publicity photos. They said I looked younger; I certainly felt younger. Rosamund was as delighted as I was with her second jump and would do it again. We talked about my getting a certificate and my own gear so I could skydive on my own whenever I wanted to. As I see it, once in a lifetime skydiving is a great gift, twice is almost an indulgence. This one was for charity and many of the spectators want to do it, so I need to spread the joy around. Some adventures are once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
The blessing of belonging to the sky is two-fold: (1) I know more than ever about letting go of control and (2) The sky taught me to the adventure will keep coming without my trying to make them happen.
There is no point in trying to turn skydiving or any sport into a mystical experience or perfect contemplation. It is what it is and it is very good. Extreme sports can give a taste of the something more we can discover when leaving the comfort zone and taking risks. After the landing comes the hard part of putting joy and the excitement of living into the quotidian details of our lives. The periodic suarees into the wilds and adrenaline, endorphins, dopamine, and belonging to the sky can give us some wisdom for all of life. If this is on your bucket list, sign up and do it.
Brother Thomas Crutcher is a member of the Carmelite Community of Apostolic Hermits. One day his risk-taking will catch up with him, but in the mean time it does have a certain entertainment value.