I have a letter here from Kyle that reads, “Dear Sean, I have the ring, I have the girl, but every time I try to ask her to marry me, I chicken out. Please help.”
Dear Kyle, so there I was, wearing a safety harness and standing atop a 318-foot-tall iron structure with the world’s largest rubber band attached to my butt. My wife was standing miles below, in a river gorge, shouting things like, “WOOO! YAAAY!”
I was going bungee jumping.
The first thing you discover when bungee jumping is that everyone tells you there’s nothing to worry about. “You’ll be fine!” everyone insists. “It’s mostly safe!”
I had to sign waivers, of course. Lots of waivers. And if you take the time to actually read the tiny print, it will chill your blood into a raspberry slushy.
Here is some of the actual language from the waivers:
“The participant is fully aware that bungee-jumping and all associated activities contains inherent risk and dangers (including serious injury or death), that no amount of care, caution, instruction, or expertise can eliminate. The participant hereby voluntarily chooses to incur any and all such risks and dangers in the event of death.”
This should have been my first tipoff that what I was doing was supremely idiotic. They do not, for example, make you sign waivers before you go mini-golfing.
Truthfully, I wasn’t sure how I ended up here. I have never had a desire to hurl myself from 35 stories. I was only here because my wife talked me into this inane stunt. She can be very persuasive.
Her line of reasoning was: “You regret one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”
This is exactly the kind of thing a loving spouse will often say once you have purchased decent life insurance policies.
So I, the participant, hiked to the top of the tower. When I reached the summit, I looked over the edge and almost fainted.
That’s when I realized that this bungee-jump operation was being facilitated by college kids who were listening to the Rolling Stones and smoking cigarettes.
This is not what you want to see when you are standing on a 300-foot precipice. What you want is guys with high-and-tight military haircuts doing a series of pre-flight checks and safety inspections. What I got was Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong.
“What’s up, bro?” said one kid, flicking his ash over the edge.
“I don’t want to be here,” I said.
“Dude. Trust me. People rarely die from this.”
They suited me in a full-body harness and connected me to a bungee cord that was about the diameter of a municipal drainage pipe.
“Is he going headfirst or butt-first?” asked one kid.
“What’s the difference?” I asked.
“If you go headfirst, you have less chance of breaking your neck.”
So I decided to go headfirst.
But first, my dutiful guides instructed me on exactly how I was supposed to jump. It’s not as easy as you would assume.
If you jump the wrong way, the cord can become oriented incorrectly and cause fatal injuries. They also warned me that, sometimes you can jump the RIGHT way and the cord can cause fatal injuries.
“Best way to do it,” the guy said, “is like diving off the high-dive.”
But here’s the thing. When I was 9 years old, my cousin tried to teach me to dive from the high dive at the public pool. I slipped and ended up executing what is still known in many circles as “the belly flop heard ‘round the world.”
I hit the water so hard I blacked out and the lifeguards had to resuscitate me. The lady who performed mouth-to-mouth was a 58-year-old former school nurse and chronic halitosis victim named Miss Caroline.
When I walked to the edge of the bungee-jump platform, I gazed downward at the tiny river below me.
The most difficult part about bungee-jumping is, it’s up to you to actually jump. Nobody can do it for you. No amount of pep talking can change the fact that it’s your legs that will launch you into the great unknown.
I spent about ten minutes on the ledge, trying to summon my courage. Finally, something powerful came over me. I can’t explain it.
And something happened to me. I realized, mid-air, that I have lived my entire life under the influence of gravity.
Gravity is a lot like fear. It weighs on you, it ages you, it causes your joints to deteriorate, and it makes you stumble and fall. You don’t notice this because gravity is always there.
But when you are weightless and free, you immediately understand how intensely gravity rules your life.
I don’t mean to reach for melodrama, but sometimes it feels deeply gratifying to simply do something that scares the spit out of you. Sometimes it feels good to flaunt the rules of fear.
So anyway, once my feet were on solid ground again, I was a new man. I heartily thanked all the experts who ensured my safety. I threw my arms around my wife and thanked her for convincing me to conquer my fears.
I allowed myself to feel pride over doing something adventurous. And I took time to reflect on how some of the best moments in life only happen when you are brave.
Then, and only then, did I go change my shorts.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected]