Sometimes, we teeter on the brink of uncertainty.
Felix Baumgartner knows this sensation better than anyone. Last night, the Austrian skydiver fell faster than the speed of sound from the astonishing height of 128,100 feet. I sat on the floor of my host family’s living room and watched history being made. As I watched, I couldn’t help but compare the two of us and our separate adventures.
In order to leave the atmosphere, he prepared himself. He perfected his skydiving techniques, said “see you later” to family and friends, and put on his special suit. He then sat in his balloon that would transport him up to the jump. I imagine the entire ride there was a tumbling and somersaulting of thoughts spinning through his head. As the miles passed, I’m sure the pressure built in and outside of him. I came out to watch right as the door to the balloon opened. My eyes were glued to the screen as he pulled himself out onto the ledge. The earth stretched out for rounded miles beneath him, while a canopy of dark space hovered above him. It was time. Mission control told him to unplug the oxygen and prepare to jump. Despite the helmet, you could tell there was a brief moment of hesitancy. But then, with sure hands, he unplugged it. He had nine minutes of oxygen remaining. There was no going back now. He pulled himself further out and we heard his labored breathing. The entire world held its breath and then – he fell.
From camera to camera, we watched as Felix fell miles and miles to earth. No longer was it his thoughts, it was his body tumbling and somersaulting through the heavens. Four minutes and 20 seconds he fell. What was only a short time must have felt like ages to him. A few thousand feet before the ground, he pulled his parachute and floated gracefully to the dusty, New Mexico land. Once safely on the earth, he knelt down and breathed in his moment of success. He is forever a changed man.
In order to leave home, I prepared myself. I reviewed my Arabic, packed my clothes, and hugged my family goodbye. I surrounded myself in a cocoon of the familiar as a safety suit. I boarded the airplane with nervous excitement and watched out the window as I left home behind. My thoughts were tumbling and somersaulting. What am I doing? Why am I leaving what is comfortable? Is this worth it? As the miles passed, my nervous excitement heightened as I sat in the pressurized cabin. After 12 hours of flying, we finally began to descend and I saw my new world under me. The desert stretched out for miles, with a canopy of hot sun and endless blue sky. I gathered up my carry-ons and walked down the aisle. It was time. No one told me to jump, but I knew that was the next step in this journey. There was a brief moment of hesitancy when I simply wanted to go back to my seat and head back home. But the oxygen was running out. There was no going back now. It was time to step off this brink of uncertainty. And so – I fell.
The fall has been terrifying and exhilarating. My body has been tumbling and somersaulting, and sometimes all I want is stability. However, the reality is, sometimes you just have to let yourself fall. Three and a half months I will fall. What is only a short time has already felt like ages. But, it is already passing more quickly than I realize, and it was watching Felix that reminded me I will never have these moments again. What was the scariest moment of his life, will be something he will willingly relive the rest of his life. I see now that it is time to enjoy the fall and pull the parachute to enjoy the view. As I look ahead, I want to end my journey like Felix Baumgartner. I want to breathe in that moment of success and know I am forever changed.
I am so grateful that sometimes we teeter on the brink of uncertainty. If we didn’t do so, we would never learn, change, grow. Thanks, Felix, for the inspiration. And thanks for giving me the chance to experience history in Amman.
Speaking of history….
On Saturday, our program took us on a day trip to see “Biblical Jordan.” It was a truly mind-blowing experience. First, we saw where John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. Followed by seeing Mt. Nebo, where Moses saw the promised land. Finally, Madaba for lunch and the ruins of Herod’s Palace where John the Baptist was beheaded. Okay, honestly, I’ve always found these “landmarks” a little suspect considering the amount of time that has passed, among other things. However, once I was finally standing in each place, I realized I didn’t care anymore. I was close enough to the place that even the concept was overwhelming.
Standing on the bank of the Jordan River, gazing out at the promised land, watching sunset over the Dead Sea from palace ruins reminded me of the reality of where I live right now. I am in a crossroads geographically, historically, and politically. I am here at a fascinating time and I still get to enjoy the history of it. Yeah, it’s cool.
All this time I had imagined the Jordan as a huge river that pours into the Dead Sea. In reality, it’s little more than an over-sized stream. This was really interesting to witness as it meant that on the bank of one side was the Arab World and only a five yard swim separated it from the bank of Israel. The contrast of the two sides was stark. Tourists wearing outfits that would be completely haram (forbidden) were spotted on the one side, as well as large groups of people waiting to get baptized in the water. That same side had beautiful churches, flags, and cement steps leading into the water. The other side had a wooden shelter that stood above the water and a couple broken steps leading into the river. One side had huge groups of people singing and praying. The other side had silent observers. There was one likeness between the two, though. This was that both sides were highly militarized. If I had tried to make that five yard swim, I would have been told to turn back or shot if I had disobeyed. A peaceful river trapped between two conflicting worlds. It was heavy reminder that they are conflicting worlds stuck on the brink of uncertainty.