Hearing the word risk often brings back the memory of the first, and only, time I jumped out of a plane. I’ve lived a great deal since that day over twenty years ago, and my understanding of risk has matured a bit since then, but I’d be lying if I said that day didn’t make a lasting imprint on me.
As much as I remember the thrill and the silence of seeing the world with nothing under my feet buy air and a curious circling hawk, what I think back to the most took place inside the plane before any of us jumped.
The plane was a small one, with the insides gutted except for the pilots seat. It could take four “jumpers” up at a time. We arranged ourselves in order of who would jump first, second.... I was second, so I was directed to sit behind the pilot’s seat facing backward. This was fine with me, I was facing my friend Bill, who would jump third, and the guy would jump last in our group. Looking to my left, I could see the guy who would jump first. But as the plane picked up speed and started to rise, instead of being pitched back, I was pitched forward and suddenly I was very glad it had been hours since lunch. Bill must have seen how quickly I turned green, because he reached out and took my hand.
We held on to each other until the first guy had vanished out the small door of the plane and it was my turn to do the same. Bill had my back. That’s what I remember as much as anything else that day, and I remain grateful to him.
I think back to that day now when I need to remind myself of the risky steps I’ve taken. The memory helps me remember what I’ve lived through and gives me some courage to take up new challenges and risks. But almost always there have been others with me, supporting me along the way. Yes, I’ve been fortunate. But that’s what communities are for, to help us all take the risks necessary to lead meaningful, vital lives.
As the poet David Whyte puts it: “We are here essentially to risk ourselves in the world. We are meant to hazard ourselves for the right thing, for the right woman or the right man, for a son or a daughter, for the right work or for a gift given against all the odds.”
And when those within any given community have found themselves supported to take the necessary, challenging risk, what then of the community itself? A community of those who have learned that less is as impossible than they first believed? What then?
I can’t wait to find out.