Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: JOIE DE VIVRE (delight in being alive) (08/18/16)
TITLE: Higher and Happier
By Jack Taylor
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I’ve been working hard on the delight which comes with life. I’ve survived eleven major surgeries, five significant car accidents and a near plane crash. Today, I am deliberately focusing on the God who holds my life more than the enemy who would like to take it.
I think most of us, as humans, have looked to the heavens and wondered what it feels like to soar on those thermals with the eagles. I’m not sure if I mumbled something in a dream about flying, but my wife, Breanna, included a certificate for paragliding with my birthday card. Before this moment, and even because of this moment, she continues to be the delight of my life.
I fasten my helmet, snug my chin strap and tap on the side of my helmet to get a radio test.
“This isn’t like parachuting or parasailing,” says Bruno through my headset as he watches the preparation by his team around us. “I’m with you the whole trip. We’re not going to drop. I’ll always be in control. We’ll catch a thermal and ride it.” He smiles. “You might be up here for hours. We call it joie de vivre.”
The breeze is ripping at my face as I stand on the hilltop staring down at the landscape dropping away thousands of feet into the valley below. I can smell the tinge of ash from a fire on the far hill as some farmer burns off a pile of tree stumps. Trees are to the right and a rocky cliff face to the left. A lazy river winds through the valley floor. I adjust my goggles and pat my cheeks.
“Are we good to go?” asks a young man, carrying away the duffle bags which housed the kites. “The wind is pretty strong.”
The instructors wrestle with the rip-stop nylon wing being inflated behind us as the strong Kevlar lines are secured in place to my harness. I fidget into a comfortable sitting position as my co-pilot Bruno fusses with the details before pointing at a Red Tail Hawk following a thermal in our direction. The kite is suspended above us.
“Comfortable?” asks Bruno.
I nod and he gives a thumbs up to his crew.
“Run,” he yells. My feet sprint in slow motion through a patch of yellow dandelions. For a moment I’m pounding my soles into the earth and then I am walking on air. We’re off.
My stomach falls as my feet lift and we rise slowly to drift side by side with the hawk. His wings hold steady and he is carried in the same way I have always wanted God to carry me. At this moment, God is wonderful, my wife is wonderful, the world is wonderful – I love life. I have never felt so at peace and at one with creation.
“How high will we go?” I ask.
“I’ve been over 15,000 feet,” says Bruno, pointing at the altimeter which is showing 9,200 feet and rising. “Congratulations, you are now officially a pilot. Take the controls. Remember, this is about finesse and not strength.”
“How far can we fly?”
Bruno chuckles. “The master pilots are going almost 300 miles on a good day. You could take off at dawn and not land until almost sunset if that’s what you really want to do.”
“Can we fly over my wife?”
“You’re the pilot, but remember to use the winds.”
As we approach the landing site on the green grass, outside the paraglider headquarters, Breanne is standing, arms raised, clapping and cheering. Thirty years with her isn’t enough.
Her cancer has been in remission for six months now. Every day is a new gift and a new delight. We are trying to do for each other what we should have been doing from day one.
Bruno speaks across the radio, “She’s beautiful. You’re a lucky man. Ready to go down or can you handle one more lift?”
I wave at Breanne and then nod at Bruno. “Take us up. I know she wants me to remember this for the rest of my life.”
For just a moment it seems we are too late and that contact with the ground is inevitable. A prayer. A lift. Then pure delight again.
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