January 23 and 1/2, 2014
It takes approximately fifteen seconds to reach terminal velocity after exiting an airplane. You have about forty-five to sixty seconds to free-fall at ten thousand feet, depending on how much you weigh, your agility, and the equipment you wear. During the first few seconds of free-falling your stomach lurches towards your heart as if it plans an escape. You will need to swallow it back down as your arms spread wide in the thin air. Time in the air is measured in altitude. At fifteen hundred feet you have only a few seconds to deploy your parachute or you risk crashing into the ground.
People bounce you know. I’ve seen it happen.
In the three to four seconds you bounce every instant you’ve experienced flashes before your eyes until you have a collage of moments mashed against your cerebral cortex. Some will overlap, but you will experience them all the more brightly because these are the last moments of your life, or so your brain thinks as it tumbles towards the grass. Some people survive this. They begin broken and battered, but when the bones mend and the soul settles they feel the sky calling again.
It takes eight minute for the sun to reach the planet earth. At sunset the light sucks backwards away from the atmosphere as if a giant vacuum pulls it out into space. If you leave a plane from three thousand feet and deploy your chute instantly you can watch five of those eight minutes from the sky. Looking above, the first stars in the sky will twinkle at you from the edges of dusk that billow out into the ocean of midnight blue that fades to black. Wisps of purple and pink will dive into the shimmers of gold that hover on the horizon until the day is invisible.
Stare at the horizon during those final seconds before you land. Otherwise, you will get stuck in the illusion that the earth is sneaking up to get you. Time and altitude will grow fuzzy. Flaring too early will cause you to crash. Plus, you will miss the seconds when the last of the golden light that called you to the sky in the first place sinks away.