I’ve been quietly sitting with loss for the past few weeks. Up late at night, into the early morning, unable to sleep. Unstoppable thoughts of everything from arguments about XRW dive planning to the reconciliation emails we’d send upon realizing we’d both been trying to communicate in a state of total sleep deprivation and could finally laugh about it. You threw down on the dance floor with me, believed in me, and stood by me even when I wasn’t ready to stand up for myself. Damn it. I was in the middle of writing you an email when I got the news that you were gone. It was kind of like flying into a solid wall. Ideas were pouring out, we were brainstorming for the next project, and then all of a sudden I was brainstorming with a dead friend. Not possible.
I know the stages. Shock. No tears. Denial: “No way. This is not happening. I already lost a really good friend this year, so I can’t be losing another one. Nuh-uh. Statistically speaking, this isn’t happening.” Bargaining: “I’m going to finish the email just in case. If I finish the email quickly enough, maybe you’ll get it and we can just continue planning the awesomeness.” Anger: “But you were always so careful! What the hell were you thinking? How could you leave us like this, with so much left to do together?” And, finally, a momentary flirtation with acceptance: “Fine. You’re dead. That’s not going to stop me from skydiving with you.”
So I grab my rig, throw it in the car, and head to the dropzone. You think you can just move on and not get in that jump we were talking about? Wrong. We’re doing it. Right now. Ten minutes later, I’m walking up to manifest at Perris and getting on a load. Craig O’Brien walks up, and I tell him the news. I see my own pale shock transform OB’s face, and there’s nothing I can do to look happier.
I kit up, because it’s what I do, and because it’s better than starting to drink at this point in the day. I’m answering a call from Jessica Edgeington of the PD Factory Team and one of my best friends, who might be the only person in the world who truly understands how I feel right now. I’m climbing into the plane. “Yeah, I’m getting on a load. I have to do this jump with JT. I’ll call you when I get down.” She doesn’t miss a beat. “Okay, got it. Call me when you land.”
Here’s what I have to say tonight, right now, and it can’t wait: Jonathan Tagle used his accumulated rock star status and stature in the sport of skydiving to effect huge change in very quiet ways. Quiet? The Tizzle? Yes, he made a lot of loud change, too. But behind the scenes, faced with decisions to either play it safe with his legacy and reputation or put his name behind something new and risky, he took his risks with moral courage and conviction. I loved him for that. His decision to believe in the non-profit I co-founded, Raise the Sky, transformed Project XRW from just another scribbled idea in a board meeting to a force and a team that changed the sport of skydiving and the lives of those who benefited from our fundraising: Operation Freefall, and Flying Dreams kids from Vero Beach Elementary School in Florida to the Pastoral Centre Preschool and Creche in South Africa.
I’m not going to say “Fly Free” or “He died doing what he loved”. Because as of this moment, I’m not done skydiving with you, Jonathan Tagle. See you at the memorial tomorrow, buddy. I know you’ll be there.