Monthly Archives: June 2011

I Survived Skydiving

I jumped out of a plane. I jumped out of a plane. I willingly jumped 14,500 feet out of a perfectly functional airplane. I have to keep telling myself because it almost doesn’t seem real. When I think back on it, it’s more like a dream than reality.

Several months ago, one of my best buddies brought up the idea of skydiving, and I immediately counted myself in, as I’m always up for a new adventure. This was all well and good up until the immediate days before we were scheduled to jump, when I started considering just how dangerous throwing oneself out of a plane can potentially be. You hear about parachutes not opening and people ending up paralyzed or as splats on the pavement, and although they say the chances of that are extremely slim, that’s not to say it doesn’t happen, and what if I happened to be that one freaky minority statistic? All it takes is one tiny mistake.

Such are the thoughts rushing my brain as we make the hour drive to the dropzone, which I share at nauseum with my friends. Upon arrival, we watch the mandatory video describing the hazards and repercussions of skydiving, relinquish our rights to sue should something happen, sign our lives away, and then….

We wait.

It seems a storm is brewing on the horizon that will compromise our safety, so we must wait for its arrival, the downpour, and the return of clear skies. How convenient. This gives me hours, literally five hours, to dwell on my impending jump and possible demise. I am terrified. I cleverly suggest we take a rain check and reschedule, but my friends are having none of it. We are finally given the green light and receive brief training, which basically consists of the following three rules:

  1. Do not grab your instructor’s hands for any reason at any time.
  2. Remember to breathe, or else you risk passing out and missing the whole experience.
  3. Exit the aircraft by pointing your knees downwards and arching your back.

Got it? Good. Now let’s jump out of a plane.

My buddies were in the first batch up, and Jax and I watched their plane ascend higher and higher until it was nearly indiscernable, and then as it spit out tiny flecks that eventually turned into our friends. They floated safely to the ground, they loved it, we exchanged big hugs, and then it was time for Jax and I to suit up.

As we zipped up our jumpsuits, I met my tandem instructor, Mark, and he was awesome. While some of the other instructors were playfully joking that they were lacking in experience or hadn’t hooked the suits properly (which is fine for jumpers who aren’t overly petrified, a.k.a my boyfriend), Mark and his Australian accent were fully in tune to my nervousness and offered nothing but comfort and reassurance. He was exactly what I needed, and for the next 20 minutes he promised to be my new best friend.

We boarded the plane, which quickly rose 14,500 feet. During the ride, I occasionally reached back to grip Jax’s hand, silently prayed, and listened to the encouraging words of my instructor as we took care of last-minute details. I was the second jumper out of the plane, and as I positioned myself at the open door, I had one last violent rush of fear. I could barely process the countdown that signified go time, and all of a sudden, we were doing a FRONT FLIP out of the plane. Apparently I screamed, but I really can’t recall; everything happened so quickly.

We plummeted to earth in free fall for a full minute before pulling the parachute cord, but here’s the thing – it didn’t feel like it at all. My instructor assured me that the minute you exit the plane and are surrounded by sky, all fear vanishes, and I started understanding just what he meant. You don’t get that roller coaster falling feeling in your stomach, it just feels like you are moving head on against a huge gust of wind. After 60 seconds, Mark deployed the parachute, it opened successfully (!!!!!), and we floated across the sky. It was surreal and liberating. He taught me how to steer the parachute, and we swooped and glided like a bird. He handled the landing, and just like that, we were safely on the ground.

It was unreal. The view. The feeling of flying. The very fact that we were completely unattached to the earth. It was wild and terrifying and exhilarating, and I will cherish the memory forever.

This is How we Roo It

Once you get past the sweltering heat, mouthfuls of dust, grime covering your body, and lack of sleep, Bonnaroo really is loads of fun. And this year was no exception.  Jax and I loaded up our camping gear and headed out Thursday after work for our favorite farm in Manchester.

We set up shop with the quickness, then beelined it to Centeroo to get our bearings and mingle with friends. We wandered around for a bit but made the wise and responsible decision to call it a night fairly early, knowing it would be one of the few times during the weekend that we’d have a shot at more than a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. Good call, because morning came quickly. You can’t really sleep past 7:30am, given that the beating sun converts your tent into a slow cooker around that hour. Even so, we were refreshed and ready for the music! And that is the last time you’ll see the word fresh in reference to anything Bonnaroo, believe you me.

We started the day off with some show hopping – Sharon Van Etten to Jessica Lea Mayfield to Ben Sollee. Next up, The Decemberists, whose latest album I’ve really been digging. They played some of my favorites, and then we darted off to catch the second half of Ray LaMontagne.

The late night shows on Friday were My Morning Jacket and Arcade Fire, both enjoyable but not receiving my full attention. We then attempted to give Lil Wayne the benefit of the doubt, but discovered early into the show that it wasn’t our scene and called it a night. In my experience, with the exception of Jay-Z’s stellar performance at Bonnaroo last year, live rap shows just don’t cut it.

We kicked off our Saturday morning with an hour trek to a friend’s campsite, then into the festival for Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, who were lively and energetic as always. Old Crow Medicine Show came next, followed by a food and friend break.

And then, oh and then, it was time for my most anticipated show of the weekend, Mumford & Sons. Their set was perfect, and their encore of Amazing Grace was even more so. Follow that up with The Black Keys, Buffalo Springfield, Eminem, String Cheese Incident, and a brief stint at the Silent Disco, and you have a full evening of good music. Top all that off with a high-energy 2:30am Girl Talk dance party, and you’ve got yourself one pretty incredible day.

And very little sleep. We slept for a few hours, realized that our feet/knees/lower back/shoulders ached from the strain of the weekend, and admitted that perhaps we are not as young as we once were.

And then we headed out for our third and final day. It began with the bluegrass awesomeness that is Railroad Earth. From there, we baked in the heat to G. Love & Special Sauce, which we cut short to get a good spot for Ryan Bingham. This turned out to be a brilliant idea, as we were near the front under a shaded tent, and he was pretty incredible.

We took a break to pack up the car, came back for one last hoorah with Iron & Wine and Cold War Kids, and begrudgingly left before Explosions in the Sky and Widespread Panic. Although we really didn’t want to miss either act, we both really had to work Monday morning and decided, again, to make the wise and responsible decision of getting home to Memphis in time for decent sleep.


Dysentery is Not My Friend

Bright and early this past Saturday morning, Jax and I surprised my big-hearted mother at the airport before she departed on a missions trip to Haiti. This would be her second year to make the trip, and she and the team were giddy with excitement and anticipation over how God would use them during their visit. My mom’s luggage was stuffed with goodies and treats to take to the children, and for several years she has been studying to master the native language of Haitian Creole. The team was ready.

Four days after their departure, my family still hadn’t heard any information from or about the group, which wasn’t totally unexpected given the lack of infrastructure in Haiti. While waiting for news of their safety, I experienced a nagging feeling of unease, more so than I did during her first visit, but I continued to combat it with prayer and trust.

Yesterday morning as I was arriving to the office, I got a phone call from my dad that put me in tears. The word from Haiti was that my mother had contracted dysentery and was in pretty bad shape. Dysentery is an infection of the intestines, usually caused by ingesting contaminated food or water. We’re not sure exactly how she got it, but we did know that she was severely dehydrated and depleted of nutrients. The team was trying to get her to a hospital, but as you can imagine, hospitals are not easy to come by in Haiti. We weren’t given much more information than this, which made the news even scarier. My mother is horribly ill in a foreign country with poor healthcare, and we had no way of communicating with her. My heart ached.

I immediately called Jax, then shakily emailed my bible study girls and other friends to ignite a prayer network. My aunts started working on potentially medevacing my mom home to the States if necessary, and we kept in touch via phone for the next several hours. I researched dysentery, and my stomach dropped at this line: If left untreated, dysentery can be fatal. Terror.

I begged God to take care of my mom, to comfort her, to protect and heal her. I reminded myself that God knows about her sickness, He allowed it, and that everything that happens to us – that is happening to my mom right now – was thought out by my infinitely wise God, and all that happens will ultimately be for our good and for His glory. No difficulty, pain, or trial happens to us by chance. There are no accidents, no mistakes, no miscalculations. All is under His sovereign control, and nothing is permitted but what He has decreed. I know this is not how my mom wanted to spend her time in Haiti, and though I may not understand why, I trust that He is working this situation together for good. 

I was bombarded with thoughtful messages all day – texts, emails, Facebook messages, phone calls. It was beautiful to feel so surrounded by love in such a dark moment of uncertainty. My mother is literally being lifted up in prayer all across the country, and that is a pretty comforting thought.

Later in the afternoon, I received a phone call from my mom! We only got to talk for a total of 15 seconds, but just hearing her voice flooded my heart with gladness. She sounded weak but said she was being treated in a hospital and feeling a bit better. The prayers were working! Now, the hope is that she recovers enough to travel back to Memphis with the rest of her team on Saturday. If not, she will not be permitted to board an international aircraft and will have to stay in the country until she is healthy. Not the worst thing that could happen, but not an ideal scenario, either.

I haven’t heard any news since then, and so I wait patiently and know that He is God.

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The First Bonnaroo

With Bonnaroo less than a week away, and in honor of this year being the 10th anniversary, I’ve decided to recap my experience at the original Bonnaroo. The year was 2002, when the festival was just an infant. 

The first Bonnaroo was full of energy, excitement, and anticipation. It took place many years ago, in a land far away, at a time when there was no such thing as digital cameras. And if there was, high schoolers didn’t own them. And I was a senior in high school, which means I didn’t have the luxury of photography on-the-go, and pictorial evidence from my first Bonnaroo is sparse at best. But if there were pictures, you would see snapshots of me and four of my girlfriends waiting in the car line for approximately 5 hours to obtain entrance into the festival. Then, you would see me running a mile past the cars in a desperate attempt to catch my then favorite band – The Big Wu – play their set, and that I made it just in time to see them exiting the stage.  Later that weekend, you would see me hugging Jack Johnson. Oh wait, you can:

He was just as sweet as his music is. Wouldn’t even sign the dollar bill in my friend’s pocket because it is illegal to deface U.S. money.

You would also see the festival in its first year, when the crowds weren’t nearly as massive as they are now. That first year, there were roughly 70,000 fans, as opposed to the 200,000 that now flee to Manchester for the annual event. Consider this for comparison purposes: at the first Bonnaroo, there were 47 acts; this year, there are over 175. Back then, it was a lot less organized, and the bands were a lot more jammy. That first year of Bonnaroo, I was watching Widespread Panic, Ben Harper, String Cheese, Bela Fleck, Gov’t Mule, and Phil Lesh. Although you still get a good dose of that, the lineup has gradually shifted from neo-hippie acts to more commercially mainstream headliners and performers. Think Eminem, Jay-Z, and Kanye West.

Though the festival has evolved, the fun factor hasn’t diminished. In fact, the word “bonnaroo” means “a really good time”, and I’d say that’s a pretty accurate definition, changes and all.