Monday, May 03, 2010

The Descendants

Poised like paratroopers on D-Day,‭ ‬we waited for our signal to jump,‭ ‬to make the leap of our lives,‭ ‬the one we had trained for and from which we would not return.‭ ‬I could feel the wind in my face,‭ ‬all of us could,‭ ‬and our anticipation grew stronger.‭ ‬We had been told countless times not to look down because the act could stir panic in our hearts,‭ ‬and our instructors would have no choice but to shake us loose and let us drop.‭ ‬I tried to resist,‭ ‬but I couldn’t stop myself any more than a child could keep from reaching for a cookie in a forbidden jar.‭ ‬I looked down.‭ ‬Below me and as far as I could see,‭ ‬hundreds more of us who had already taken the leap were standing tall with hands raised in triumph like a classroom filled with students who already knew the answer.‭ ‬Instead of fear,‭ ‬I felt excitement.‭ ‬Soon,‭ ‬if all went well,‭ ‬I would be joining them on the ground,‭ ‬my own arms raised and beckoning those waiting for their turn to come join our noble cause.

Drilled into my brain and now as much a part of me as my own genetic code,‭ ‬I could still hear the words barked at us for what seemed like forever:‭ “‬Stick the landing,‭ ‬troops.‭ ‬It’s the most important thing you’ll ever do.‭ ‬Stick the landing and everything else will work out the way it’s supposed to.‭” ‬I wondered how many times I had heard that in my young life.

Soon,‭ ‬a rattle of conversation rode through the group in front of us and I knew their time had arrived.‭ ‬A wave of anxiety flowed through my team as we heard the commands,‭ “‬Get ready,‭ ‬now.‭ ‬It’s almost time.‭ ‬Be strong,‭ ‬don’t look down.‭ ‬Stick the landing.‭”‬

The wind seemed somehow stronger,‭ ‬and the group about to leap shook as they assembled into position.‭ “‬Let’s go‭! ‬Let’s go‭!” ‬And off they went,‭ ‬cut free and surfing the wind,‭ ‬cascading down,‭ ‬each one gently yet,‭ ‬as a group,‭ ‬feverishly like a winter flurry.

The wind was in their favor and the ones who had stuck the landing stretched their arms further,‭ ‬welcoming the torrent of newcomers descending though the spring air.‭ ‬Suddenly and unpredictably,‭ ‬the wind shifted.‭ ‬The group attempted evasive maneuvers as they had been taught to do since the early days of our training.‭ ‬I watched as they tried one stunt after another,‭ ‬exhausting their resources as they drifted further,‭ ‬further off course.‭ ‬A few,‭ ‬just a few,‭ ‬were successful and they were greeted warmly by those who had stuck the landing.‭ ‬But the rest were blown too far away for us to even hear them cry out or curse,‭ ‬if they had been doing either.‭ ‬Those were the ones who ended up falling on hard ground.‭ ‬They didn’t stick the landing,‭ ‬their arms weren’t raised in triumph and,‭ ‬instead,‭ ‬lay motionless at their sides.‭ ‬The anxiety on my team grew and a murmur soon arose that had to be quelled.

The instructors were on it.‭ “‬Listen up‭! ‬Listen up‭!” ‬they said.‭ “‬Some of them will make it,‭ ‬OK‭? ‬A great many will not,‭ ‬but we all know the odds don’t we‭? ‬Now look,‭ ‬it doesn’t mean that’s going to happen to you.‭ ‬Remember your lessons,‭ ‬don’t panic.‭ ‬You feel the drift,‭ ‬you start reacting immediately.‭ ‬You got that‭?”‬

We said yes,‭ ‬but they made us say it again,‭ ‬louder and with more vigor so it sounded like we really meant it and I suppose that effect was to console and encourage each other whether we believed what we were saying or not.‭ ‬It didn’t matter.‭ ‬We had little time to ponder sincerity when our own time for a jump was at hand.

I looked down again,‭ ‬at the hard place where most of the last group had landed,‭ ‬and down below where many more of the ones before had ended up.‭ ‬There were more of the latter and I convinced myself that the odds were in my favor.

“Let’s go‭! ‬Let’s go‭!” ‬And with that,‭ ‬our turn had finally come.‭ ‬There was no more time to worry,‭ ‬to grieve or to wonder.

We floated majestically and I looked around me to find a cadre of butterflies riding the breeze,‭ ‬laughing at the sheer delight of being airborne at last.‭ ‬The wind did not turn,‭ ‬remaining in our favor,‭ ‬away from the hard ground.‭ ‬We drifted and I looked down again.‭ ‬The others were waiting,‭ ‬and I was almost close enough to hear them call out a hooray.‭ ‬But the wind was not finished with me yet and I glided along a gentle current,‭ ‬actually floating up for a moment before cruising close to the ground.

Stick the landing‭! ‬I had almost forgotten the most important lesson of all.‭ ‬The one that meant a chance at success or the death of failure.‭ ‬I looked around.‭ ‬I was in position.‭ ‬I was almost there.‭ ‬Almost.‭ ‬There‭! ‬Softly into the grass,‭ ‬a spot all my own,‭ ‬near enough to be within sight of the others but far enough away that I had a chance.‭ ‬I had made it,‭ ‬and I had stuck the landing.‭ ‬The single most important journey of my life,‭ ‬a journey now at an end.‭ ‬I felt a melancholy ache,‭ ‬a memory made from what had become a quest fulfilled.‭ ‬There was little time to think about the past,‭ ‬for now it was time to dig in and allow a new adventure to take root.


dot said...

I love this, Bob! It took reading carefully more than once, to fully appreciate it. Really nice!


Thanks, Dot. It was a bit of an experimental post for me and I appreciate that you read it through a couple times.

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