Hanging by a thread

“Go for it, dude!”
The attendant egged me on with his rehearsed, canned enthusiasm. I shouldn’t have peered over the ledge. My pupils constricted hard in attempt to focus on the lake below as the wind blew past my ear and whispered the clich├ęd truism “Don’t look down”. But I was here by choice. My feet were tied without objection. And jumping 47m off a cliff would be my own decision. I hadn’t jumped yet, but I already hated bungee jumping.
I waddled up to the edge with clamped ankles, advancing 10 cm at a time, dragging a lengthy elastic cord behind me. My internal dialogue only had one thing to say and it was playing in my head over and over again in a continual loop: “You’re fucking crazy!” I remembered the sign at the payment counter and used that as motivation: “No refund will be given if you decide not to jump.”
After a little hesitation and a stutter forward, I leaned off the ledge in trepidation. My knees were bent, my spine was arched and my shoulders were rolled forward with tension. If hyenas were around they would have smelled it. It was fear.
It all happened so fast. After about three second of freefall the magical, elastic rope started to approximate the end of its spans, beginning its recoil and slowing me down as my face approached the lake. And it’s at that pivotal point, at the bottom of the rope’s reach, when the pressure in your head is the greatest, causing it to ripen like a cherry tomato. Your rush of adrenalin reaches its climax, and you swallow a quick gasp of breath as the rope tenderly tugs you back like a giant, slow motion yo-yo.
Of course there are countless other things to experience during a bungee jump: back and joint problems; whiplash; temporary blindness due to detached retinas; and, for those who lie about their weight, death. But these were also the reasons why I HAD to do it. Essentially, every minute that you are living is another minute that you are cheating death. So it’s only through tempting fate that one can truly live.
As the amplitude of my bounce diminished, I was lowered onto a waiting dingy. The dingy girls congratulated me with rehearsed, canned enthusiasm as they salvaged my ankles from the elastic vice. And as they motored me back to shore I mentally re-enacted the jump and the emotions that I felt throughout. There was exhilaration and excitement, but fear was obliterating the positive vibe. I needed to conquer this demon. I hopped ashore and ran up the mountain for a second jump.
“I’d like to be baptized pleased.”
They made the rope a little longer this time.
Same procedure.
I’d been to the toilet so I was half a kilo lighter. The attendant used a thick, green marker to tattoo my new weight next to my old weight on the back of my hand, and then proceeded to make the rope longer still.
Same thoughts. Same internal dialogue.
It didn’t get any easier. I now realize why suicide jumpers linger on a ledge for so long. It’s probably not the fear of death, but the programming that we have as humans that makes it difficult to take that step into nothingness. Humans seem to have a power surge switch. Jumping off a building, watching a gory operation, thrusting a knife into somebody’s eyeball… our wiring generally makes it difficult to do. Of course there are the odd sick individuals who aren’t bothered by it. We call these people: idiots, doctors and pioneers, respectively.
My surge-breaker was kicking in strong, so I closed my eyes and visualized a swimming pool just below my feet. I was re-wiring my programming, bypassing the switch and conquering my demons. If you believe a reality, the mind knows no different. So I dived into my pool.
I dived more relaxed and, even though my retinas were threatening detachment, I enjoyed the fall. Exhilaration and elation over-shadowed the fear. And as I was submerged waist-deep into the lake below I let out a victorious cry. This “baptism” cleansed my soul of cowardice and filled me with a new inner strength. My bounces diminished and I smiled as I bid my demons goodbye. I slept well that night. Have you ever had that dream where you’re falling?