Bismarck Tribune publisher Gary Adkisson at 9,000 feet.

For a number of years my wife and I have vacationed for a week with our three children, their spouses and our, now seven, grandchildren.

A few years ago I noticed an advertisement for a skydiving outfit located just 15 minutes from the house we had rented, and I have been obsessed with the idea ever since.

So as we made plans to vacation there again this year, I told my wife that I had made up my mind, this is my year to skydive. Not surprisingly, she said she wanted to do it, too.

So last Wednesday morning we headed to the airport, signed the waivers, and boarded the small Cessna 180 for a climb to 9,000 feet.

Prior to the vacation, I had done some research on skydiving safety and was pleased to find that the ratio of deaths per 100,000 skydivers is about half that of car accidents. Tandem skydiving, which is what we did, is even safer.

As we climbed that morning, my tandem partner told me he had jumped more than 12,000 times. Clearly, he knows what he is doing. On the ground his father-in-law had said, “Trust me, he wants to get back home to his family as badly as you do to yours.”

My wife’s tandem partner was a paratrooper and had many years of skydiving training and experience, as well.

As I had pondered the jump for more than a week it occurred to me that my fear of the jump was that I would have no control. I was literally putting my life in someone else’s hands, whereas with driving, I believe I am in control.

But the reality is that we only have the perception or illusion of control. None of us plans on being taken out by a drunk driver, distracted driver, drowsy driver or by an 18-wheeler with faulty equipment.

But isn’t it always the unplanned and unforeseeable that takes a life on the road? I mean, if we could see it coming we would react and avoid it. I have avoided numerous collisions by reacting quickly and being a fairly alert driver, and because of that I have gained great confidence in my driving ability. And that is why I feel like I am in control when I drive.

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But the reality is, control is an illusion.

With that realization, and with complete confidence in my tandem partner, I stepped out of the little roll-up door onto a small mettle step measuring about 12 inches by 4 inches, 9,000 feet in the air, above the low-lying broken clouds over the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and jumped.

As we jumped my partner said, “Let’s have some fun”, and we immediately went into a slow somersault that had me staring at the bottom of the plane for a few seconds, and then the beautiful blue ocean below.

The 30-second free fall was a blur at 120 mph. But the instant the parachute deployed, the wind stopped, the world stopped, and there was nothing but calm as I took in the coastline, beaches and bright blue water, seeing it as I had never seen it before, and with an all-new appreciation for God’s creation.

At some point my partner leaned in and said, “How do you like my office?” I was in sensory overload so I am not certain what I said. I think I told him it was amazing, and if that’s right it was an understatement.

Somewhere around 2,000 feet he gave me the parachute steering handles so I could “drive.” I steered us to the right and then back to the left before he took them back to get us in position to land.

For a brief moment I had the illusion that I was in control of that parachute, but as Sven brought us in for a featherlight landing I remembered, control is an illusion, and I will live life differently for having gained that insight.

Try it. It’s freeing.


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Gary Adkisson is publisher of The Bismarck Tribune.