repository for the occasional perambulatory rumination

i am big on self-reliance, though sometimes i talk about it more than i practice it. recently, however, i had the ultimate opportunity to date to practice self-reliance: i went flying in the wind tunnel in denver. my son (a nut) skydives regularly, and every thursday night finds him flying in the wind tunnel league just outside of denver. i happened to be visiting him a few weeks ago, and my stay involved a thursday night, so i went with him to the league, and thanks to my son’s generous willingness to give me a few of his minutes, i donned a flightsuit/socks/shoes/helmet/goggles/gloves/earplugs and tried it myself.

i sat through the short training video where i learned how to enter the tunnel (cross arms over chest with clasped hands under chin and fall forward and in) and the various signals i would likely encounter from the instructor (straighten legs slowly, raise head, smile, relax, bend legs). my thorough training as teacher’s pet had me fluent in their signals within minutes, but such intense focus on THEIR language left no room to even think about teaching them MY sign language.

it all happened so fast, i didn’t have time to think before – whoosh – i was in the tunnel being held up by great current of air. best thing to do when flying the wind tunnel, i quickly learned, is focus on the present. right here, right now. that’s all there is.

and that’s when it all started.

as i followed the instructor’s direction and lifted my chin, air flooded my sinuses and i felt like i was going to drown in (literally) thin air.

it burned. it hurt. and i panicked.

big time panic.

seriously big time panicked.

somehow i conveyed to the instructor my immediate and undeniable need for an early exit. he helped me to the door then tried to cajole me (unsuccessfully) back in.

as the others went for another turn in the tunnel, i gave myself a good old-fashioned talking to, shook my body out like a dog who’s been out cavorting in the rain, then, knowing i’d likely never do this again and that i had to – i mean, i just had to – get back on the proverbial horse, scooted myself up to pole position.

i fell into the tunnel again and enjoyed a few hours seconds, before recognizing the return of the all-too-familiar panic. though i motioned wildly my intense desire to get out (it’s clearly evident on the video – how they could’ve missed it, i’ll never know), my sign language fell on deaf eyes, and i was forced to remain in the tunnel until my allotted time was up.

resigned, i took myself in hand and said loudly in the voice of my mind, “you got yourself into this tunnel, and you are going to have to get yourself out. nobody can hear your words. they are blind to your sign language. the only way out is through the clock, and you are responsible for your own self. it’s just you, babe. you’re not going to die here – it’s just sinuses – so stop wasting this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience and breathe.”


shoot, i wasn’t breathing.

i have this annoying tendency to stop breathing under stress. such a simple thing that makes the biggest difference: in and out, in and out, in and out. once i started breathing, my body relaxed (somewhat) and i could focus on being suspended in a plexiglass-enclosed tunnel that reminded me of the canister used at the drive-thru window at the bank.

just as i got my breathing jumpstarted and relaxed into the moment, i found myself way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way up at the deeply dark top of the tunnel, a place where panic breeds unchecked. bringing myself back to the moment (and, quite frankly, checking for signs that i was, in fact, still alive) by doing a body scan, i felt the instructor’s grip on my suit (who cares where his hands were), switched my focus back onto breathing, and was immediately on my way to being okay again.

down we came, around and around we went, up and down in that canister i mean tunnel, and all too soon, my long short minutes were up. i had flown my entire block of time.

the other 4 league members are old-hands. they, like my boy, fly the tunnel and jump out of planes regularly, so this was no big deal to them. just another thursday night in the tunnel. fun, but basically ho-hum.

for me, though, it was big. huge. awesome. incredible. fabulous. fantastic. amazing. phantasmagorical. momentous. i was jumping up and down, screaming gleefully, using a lifetime’s worth of exclamation points: “i flew the wind tunnel. i panicked, but i still flew the wind tunnel. how great is that” and other related exhortations . . . but only on the inside. the regulars were rather nonchalantly talking about going to eat at “the usual” place they visit after flying the tunnel, so the outside jeanne – not wanting to intrude on their regular-scheduled thursday night event – quietly disrobed and tiptoed across the room to call the husband and treat him to my exclamations of gleeful delight.

it was an incredible experience – unbelievable – and just writing about it jolts my body into remembering the natural high kindled from that small spot of self-reliance. the satisfying feeling of completion, of newness, of challenge. it makes my whole body smile and purr, it really does.

it is a memory i will retrieve whenever i need a nudge or shoring-up.

not too sure about it being a once-in-a-lifetime thing, though. unbeknownst to my boy, i am planning another trip to colorado soon – one that involves a thursday night stay.


jeanne in the deep, dark, scary, loudly silent heights of the wind tunnel (with instructor holding on). (i like the color, but do you think the flightsuit makes me look fat?)


my boy flies the tunnel. it’s a small thing, i know, and i hesitate to even mention it – really, i do. but, okay: do you notice that thing on the front of his helmet? the piece that protects his full face – including his nose, a.k.a. entry to the sinuses? perhaps if i’d’ve had one of those, my sinuses would have been sheltered. but then it would’ve been an entirely difference experience.

doesn’t mean i won’t ask for one next time, though.

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6 Responses to “flying solo with my son”

  1. Acey on December 8th, 2008 12:35 pm

    okay this time I wasn’t laughing. It was just too vivid to keep ahead of the panic curve. Jesus H. Christ, Jeannine. That is all.

  2. Paula Hewitt on December 8th, 2008 2:46 pm

    unlike Acey i did laugh..a bit. it was funny because it was true – i felt like that when i went to a fire walking workshop with a loony hippy exboyfriend. I was scared shitless but did it and was on such a high afterwards. and I read a few earlier posts and laughed too. no wonder you dont get much stitching done.

  3. jeanne, herself on December 8th, 2008 4:52 pm

    hey acey-girl. yeah, panic attacks are NO fun. i’d have to say this is my first. i’ve been scared before (it’s how i lost my wits), but this was a whole different thing. (love the “Jesus H. Christ”. makes me laugh.)

    paula – have sure missed you. can just see you walking on fire. i was gonna’ do that several years ago, but the “instructor” was this loony hippie guy . . .

  4. Acey on December 10th, 2008 12:22 am

    coming back around to apologize profusely for adding an extra syllable to your name. It’s been bothering me that I did that ever since I pushed ‘send’ and *then* saw the mistake. As with most things there’s a story there. Will explain more privately via email.

  5. jeanne, herself on December 10th, 2008 7:06 am

    oh, acey, i’ve been called a lot worse. do look forward to that email, though . . .

  6. Laney on December 11th, 2008 9:15 pm

    you go girl! I’d ask for the face shield too, it may just be peaceful next time. I need a little of your(brass ovaries(what my mom calls them)….I used to think I would enjoy skydiving, paragliding……I have become a wuss in my mid life. It was fun to experience it through you, and your ability to fly through the fear.

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