January 28, 2007

Signs of Life

Passionate and inspired: words I once chose to describe myself when asked by a friend. I was supposed to choose only one, but felt that I wasn't either adjective more than the other. Right now I am feeling neither passionate nor inspired. I have nothing to write about even though my life is fairly interesting. Where I am, what I am doing, how I landed here. Even right now I am 17,000 feet over the mountains of Oaxaca state flying in a skydiving plane, going to our home Drop Zone in the mountains. The view is amazing, but I feel stifled and stuck, ready to move on. My instinct tells me to leave. My heart tells me to stay, to make a difference here, and in myself. I listen to which calling?

My passion for skydiving both grows and withers, all in one day. The thrill of leaving the door, huge grin on my face, staring into the eyes of a good friend or a tandem customer who is experiencing skydiving for the first time is indescribable; to watch someone fly through the air, to grab their hands, kiss their cheek, then to see their canopy open, watching them float, spiraling down, down, down and then land next to them on the beach is sheer bliss. To experience all of this in Mexico--at the beach no less--is a bonus, the icing on an already delicious cake.

But all of the emotion, the relief of surviving, the long, glorious exhale when I land safely on the ground is thwarted somewhat by the burden of working with my passion, to be so absorbed by something and allowing it to permeate all aspects of my life. I sometimes feel too obligated, tied down to this place, this job, which sounds ridiculous really. Seeing the written words, I am almost laughing out loud. After all, not a day goes by that I am not reminded of the freedom I have, by an envious soul who wants to escape the confines of society and live like a skydiver, live like the free-spirit the human animal wants to be. To be living, not just alive. A beautiful soul told me last week that she wishes everyone had the sparkle in their eye that I have, eyes full of life and wonder, still impressionable enough to be amazed by everyday miracles.

To keep myself from stagnating, from becoming too complacent, I have to remind myself how beautiful the little things in life really are. This plane I am in. Watching my dear co-workers gear up to jump out of the plane as I, too lazy and comfortable to join them, sit here and write. Not a bad office to work in; the view of Popo the Volcano is stunning. I feel myself start to relax, and despite the onset of a wicked hypoxic headache, I am content.

An extremely wise person gave me some sage advice yesterday: Let it all go in one ear and out the other. All of the stress of cultural differences and work ethics and organizational skills poles apart from my own, I have to just let them go. For my own sanity. And know that if I can't be the head, I can be the neck and hopefully help guide the head in the right direction, supporting it and keeping it on straight. Not an easy task at the beach in Mexico, but I suppose I am up for the challenge.

Red light, two minutes to the Drop Zone. I scurry to tie down valuables, as once the door opens it will stay opened until we land. And then I sit and I watch groups of 2 get in line for the door. Bundled up in hats and sweatshirts, my friends do one last check of each other's gear. Yellow light and the door rolls open, cold air and wind come rushing in--a wake up call like no other. For a moment I long to be jumping with them instead of landing in the plane. But seeing them poised in the doorway when the green light comes on makes it worthwhile to be watching, a scene that has become somewhat commonplace to me, yet I know in the back of my mind that what I am doing here is special. I am lucky, and watching these skydivers leave the plane reminds me that this moment, right now, is worth more than I can even comprehend. That I may not know the value of it much later, when I've had time to reflect and let it all sink in.

All out, I watch the land pass by as Woody dives down, losing altitude. I see the DZ, and the sketchy gravel runway that barely passes as a road, let alone a landing strip for a Twin Otter. We wind down, my friends have landed their parachutes long ago and have probably started packing them by now. It is quiet except for the whine of the engines and the wind blowing in through the open door, and it is beautiful. A silence I needed to hear; alone with my thoughts for 2 minutes, I realize that for a change I am grateful I didn't jump, because removing myself from the scene and being a spectator helped me see that where I am right now is a great place to be. That my inspiration can come not only from the doing, but from seeing what I do from a different perspective.

Powerlines ahead, feels like we are going to take them out. But Woody finds that place just above them, just low enough to come in on final approach. There is not a lot of room for error, but Woody pulls it off beautifully and we glide across the gravel and the washboards as though we were landing on the smoothest tarmac in Mexico. We taxi across the zone, a sun-baked field in the shadow of Popo. Another weekend of work lies ahead, but I don't want to stop writing: I suddenly feel like myself again, plenty to say, feelings on the surface, ready to be exposed and shared.

Woody looks back at me and says in typical Woody fashion, "Wow Val, you look really happy right now. Happy you survived another landing in Cuautla?".

Something like that Woody, something an awful lot like that.

Photos, top to bottom: Leaving the plane; Cuautla runway; Volcano Popocatepetl and sidekick Iztaccihuatl

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