Winking at the Reaper

Jeff Nebelkopf is dead. Jeff and I shared our personal and professional lives through formative years for both of us. I haven't fully processed anything about his passing, and I don't know if I ever will. But today, here are my thoughts. We’re all going to die. Some of us push harder than others against this reality. We seek the magical portals that lead to moments of flight, to the edge between safety and oblivion, to the forced meditation of spending a minute or two within seconds of falling onto the reaper’s scythe.

For skydivers and BASE jumpers, these portals exist at the intersection of the physical world and our collective belief that we have to fly to live. The open door of an airplane in flight beckons towards the immediacy of freefall. The quiet cliff’s edge is there for us to push off as we leap against our brain’s ancient protests and leave convention behind. Fuck Normal Life, we say. We will be different. We will be epic.

We wink at the reaper and then deploy our nylon into the void with faith that it will save us. Most of the time, we survive. Sometimes, we die. When death comes, grief and anguish follow. The band of seekers gathers to learn from the mistakes and profess love for each other, for the magical doors, and for the shared quest. Some question the wisdom of going through the doors, and some give up their nylon. Eventually, and sometimes immediately, the jumping resumes.

Far from the magical doors, in hospitals and morgues, in houses late at night and just before sunrise, mothers writhe with dreams of giving birth to children who died too young. Husbands and wives and partners and friends lie awake with guts roiled by loss, by the emptiness in the universe the seeker left behind.

I am a seeker and a flyer, a daughter and a friend. I am addicted to the magical doors and the places they lead me to. I want to believe that we can be brave explorers of gravity’s potential and worthy adversaries of its dangers without having to kill ourselves in the process.But after witnessing so many deaths, I am having doubts. I want to keep on feeling. I want to choose experience and pain over numbness. And I want to understand why I’m still here.