Four Things to Remember
Before Jumping Out of an Airplane
(or doing something terrifying;
or doing something exciting;
or pretty much every day)
Life is a gift.
Anything is possible.
Savor the unfolding.
You can listen to me tell the story behind this poem in this 6-minute excerpt from the February 21 Poetry Timeout.
This poem was inspired by my step-grandfather, Josey, who was a paratrooper in World War II. He lived with the pain of an injury he endured during the D-Day battle (and, perhaps also the emotional toll of war, though he never talked about that aspect). He also expressed an enthusiasm for everyday life that seemed larger than life to me when I was growing up. Everything was marvelous to him—a coffee from Starbucks was the best he’d ever had, even if he’d had one the day before; an encounter with a stranger at a convenience store would send him home with tales of the most wonderful human he’d just met; and he reveled in us grandchildren.
Before Josey died, he told me a story about how much he loved jumping out of airplanes, so much so that he used to volunteer to test parachutes! I can’t relate to jumping out of airplanes, but I can relate to the feeling of stepping into the unknown and out of my comfort zone. Some people might describe the feeling as exhilaration. I might call it anxiety. It’s curious when and how that fearful edge comes up. Often, something seemingly as simple as sending this email feels a like jumping out of a plane. I never know where and how it’s going to land.
I was talking to a friend this week about the opportunity I have to take a spontaneous vacation with my sister. “How exciting!” my friend said. I told him that I was excited, and also that I had woken up that morning with a knot in my stomach and thoughts racing through my mind telling me not to go, that I shouldn’t disrupt the status quo. I told him that I’d looked at each fear one by one to determine if it was a worthy fear, because my mind sometimes tries to protect me in ways that aren’t helpful. My mind can be pretty creative about imagining scary outcomes that really don’t make sense on close examination. My friend chuckled and said, “These are the kinds of things that I’d be thinking. I’m really glad to hear you say them too because I have this idea of you as being fearless and adventurous in every way.” I always assumed that Josey was totally fearless too, though he must have had his doubts and insecurities; he's human.
I started writing the four statements that became this poem in a nightly journal I keep. Every night for the past fourteen years, I scan through the day and write down some things I’m grateful for, something I’m joyfully anticipating, an intention for the next day, and a request from the universe. Over time, I started writing the four lines that became this poem. Perhaps it was Josey’s reminder to invite gratitude, openness, presence, and wonder each day.
I'm going on the trip, and looking forward to the inspiration that this adventure will bring. I'll be back in time for next week's Poetry Timeout event on Sunday, April 25. I'd love for you to join me and my poet friend, Nico Cary, as we share poems, stories and songs. Learn more and register here. If you can't attend live, you can sign up to receive the recording.