I am terrified of heights.
To be specific, I am terrified of that feeling of looking over the edge of something, and being totally untethered to the earth or something otherwise tethered to the earth.
I had to re-evaluate that fear on Saturday.
You see, I watched more than 30 people jump out of an airplane. After skydiving from 14,000 feet, they landed back on earth as gently as could be (all thanks to the folks at Skydive Monroe who were not only incredibly professional, but also incredibly caring to everyone from Extra Special People).
And among those 30 skydivers, three of those people have disabilities that I can never fully and completely comprehend.
Matthew Dooley, who has cerebral palsy and does everything with the aid of a wheelchair, marked his 18th birthday by skydiving. He was carried into the airplane, and admittedly looked a little ashen-faced at the moment that he was placed on the small aircraft.
When he was back on the ground, his face contained an incredible expression of euphoria. He steered his motorized wheelchair off the landing area as if what he had done was no big deal.
Suzanne Goossens, whose parents waited until the day of the jump to sign her up, walked toward and away from the experience with the same infectious smile that seems to be ever-present on her face. Once Suzanne’s parents saw how gently and expertly Matthew had been brought back to ground-level, they knew their Suzanne could handle it. Well, she did more than handle it: she loved it.
Hannah Baird, a young woman with Down’s syndrome, cooly and calmly trained for tandem skydiving along with her brother, Spencer. As she practiced the moves she would need to perform once she and her tandem partner were in the air, she looked as though she had been born to do this.
I watched in amazement as these three young people took on this challenge with remarkable grace. (I also cried seeing the sheer joy on their faces, and the flawless landings they each had.)
They joined the parents of several other ESP’ers, as well, who jumped in honor of their children who face down fears and challenges every day. And, they did it to raise money for ESP programs: namely summer camp (which is right around the corner!)
In all, more than $21,000 was raised at Saturday’s event. The Second Annual Jump, Fly, Be Different event drew several hundred people to the Monroe-Walton County Airport for live music, food, games, face-painting, plane rides and more. It blew last year’s total ($14,000 raised by 24 people) out of the water. Matt Dooley had a lot to do with that, single-handedly raising $3,500 -- the highest individual total.
In addition to being featured on Good Day Atlanta, Matt did an amazing job of getting the word out via Facebook and his school’s website.
All of this is to say one thing: my fear of heights seems pretty insignificant in light of what these young people did on Saturday.
Their feat is a testament to their refusal to accept the message the world relays to them too often: “You can’t.”
They answered in one, clear voice on Saturday with a message that has become mantra at ESP: “I can.”
And for a scardey-cat like me, it’s impossible to not ask the question, “OK, so, then why can’t I?”
All of the people who told me that I should do it next year will probably be thrilled to read that. I won’t make any promises, but I’ll at least say this: I will hold Matthew, Suzanne and Hannah in my heart as a constant reminder that if they can do anything, so can I -- and so can all of you.
It’s a reminder we all need from time to time, and it’s yet another example of a simple fact: we go through life thinking these kids need us -- but it turns out we need them just as much.