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Revelations: Conquering the fear of fear

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
March 9, 2011 at midnight
Updated March 10, 2011 at 9:11 p.m.

Jennifer Preyss

BY JENNIFER PREYSS

Have you ever experienced terror? I'm not talking about fear, I'm talking about terror. We can fear many things - the fear of not having enough money to pay the bills, the fear of not finding a life partner, the fear of failure, the fear of public speaking - but terror is another emotion altogether. It's painful and panic-attack inducing. It's the emotion that forces a person's life to proverbially flash before their eyes. So, I haven't experienced too many instances of this. A couple of bad car wrecks brought me close, but overall, terror-associated life experiences have remained at bay.

But, I have a feeling in the next few weeks, I'll have a first encounter with terror. On my schedule at this very moment is an appointment to skydive for the first time. See, just saying the word skydive makes my insides all gooey and my lungs inflate with slow air. The thought of standing over the edge of a small airplane door, staring down at undeterminable patches of Earth below, trusting fully that the strange man attached to my backside will pull open my parachute at the right time (and trusting the parachute will open at all), quite frankly terrifies me. It terrifies me beyond words.

So, you may be asking yourself why I'm making the jump if even the thought of skydiving evokes terror. The first part of the answer is that I'm writing an article about how professional skydivers interpret God, death and life through their job. I'm interested in how someone who jumps (possibly) to their death every day would examine the supernatural. And it would help me to understand their profession more, if I had a real skydiving experience to gauge from. The second part of the answer is that I've always wanted to skydive. It's been on my bucket list for years. And the only thing that's held me back is knowing how terrified I'd be beforehand.

But last year, I promised myself something. I promised myself that I wasn't going to be the kind of person who was afraid of their fear. I wanted to be someone who didn't let the world pass by because I was too afraid to move forward. That's why I bought my little two-seater convertible last year, and that's why, frankly, I picked up and moved my life to Texas knowing exactly one person in the entire state before accepting my job with the Advocate. And that's why I've decided to skydive. Because even though I'm terrified, I figure the exhilarating memory of my first skydive waiting for me on the other side of the fear is worth jumping out of an airplane.

I've been asking myself for the past few weeks what the source of my terror really is, and if it's reasonable to experience pre-skydiving terror. Is it the jump itself, the 80 seconds of free fall, the possibility of a malfunctioning parachute or death? Is it death that I'm terrified of? While taking inventory of my terror, I realized it may be a bit of each. It could be knowing that I may be that one-in-a-million jumper whose parachute doesn't open, or that one jumper who gets a gust of unexpected wind that face-plants me into a condo high-rise. But I also considered the terror may signify a lack of trust in God. If I really believe that He knows when I'm supposed to die, then the recreational activities I participate in wouldn't necessarily change that plan. So, during my self-reflection, I've decided that if I'm the .005-percent case that face-plants into a building, then I suppose it was simply my time to go. I've decided that God has my life in His hands (though I feel somewhat strange asking him to protect me from a life-or-death activity that I'm willingly entering into), and He knows what awaits me two weeks from now. And if anything goes awry, hopefully my friends and family will know I left the world fulfilling a promise to myself to live and participate in life. Please don't point and laugh on the way down. And please don't include this in my eulogy.

Jennifer Preyss is a re porter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or jpreyss@vicad.com.

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