I am a creature who lives stretched across time. I can remember vividly things that took place decades ago – down to conversations, the tone of voice in which they were had, the sound of remembered laughter. I am forever projecting into the future – my “panic now it saves time later” mantra has been the subject of much gentle mockery by all too many people who know me. The one thing I never mastered properly was arguably the most difficult one of all, the grasping of a single moment of existence and living in it fully and completely, in a way that makes that moment all that there is, was, ever will be. The most important sliver of time that could exist, the one that surrounds you RIGHT NOW, that matters RIGHT NOW, that is here now and never was here before or will be (or could be) ever again.
My beloved used to smile at me and say, “I know why I was put on this earth. It’s to teach you how to treasure the moment.” Because he was someone who could. He could hold time like a raindrop in his hand, rapt in its beauty, watching it sparkle and glow in the light, appreciate the act of its existence and of his act of sharing in that existence.
He never did succeed in the task that he claimed he was put here to accomplish. I never really learned that untrammeled joy of being, unburdened by regrets (because if you lived the moment right you could not have any to haunt you) or any kind of dread (because if you lived the moment right there was nothing coming down the pike that could hurt you). That was him, that was his light, that was the light in which I happily curled, safe and protected in its bubble. He didn’t teach me how to do it – I don’t think it’s teachable. But its protection was wrapped around me like angel’s wings for twenty years, and for twenty years he held the moment, and kept me there beside him, holding on.
Right until it cracked wide open. And the raindrop shivered and found the crack and melted through it and was gone.
We had not spoken much about the “Aftermath” of things, as it were – but there was a conversation or two. The “what do you want me to do with you, after” conversation. And he said he didn’t much care, really; and I said, I am going to find somebody to throw you into the sky. And he said, that would be nice. It wasn’t so much of a firm promise, but it was a sort of silent vow. I was not going to put this bright spirit into the ground, because he was of the air, you see.
Deck did his first skydive more than half a century ago, as a reporter for the Palm Beach Times who got told about this jumping-out-of-a-perfectly-good-airplane thing by a neighbor of his, and saw only the potential of a story for his paper – but initially that was all it was, a story, and, as he put it, “It would make a good photo feature for my paper. I certainly had no intention of pulling such an idiotic stunt myself.”
But he did, and then he kept on doing it. He hints at the reason why:
“Though a first jump is like no other and static line parachuting cannot be compared to the free fall of real skydiving, I found a little of what keeps a sky diver coming back.
When the chute first opens you hang suspended in a world that is completely insulated from the humdrum of ordinary existence. The world below has a virginal beauty that disappears upon closer examination. But it is the silence that grips you, a silence so perfect, so rare and so ethereal that you hug it to yourself in a futile attempt to keep it forever.
For a brief moment you enter a world whose existence only the poets before you had discovered and which only the poets can describe.
I only wanted a story. But if it’s a nice weekend I’m going to make my second jump.
Well, like we said… you just can’t explain it. You’ll just have to try it yourself.”
I always knew I wanted to give him back to the sky. On july 14, it happened.
The full account, with photos, on my blog.