March 26, 2022.
Having no regrets means
testing your mettle at every opportunity.
My wife and I are driving around Maui to Hana.
We stop for gas where I speak to the attendant.
“Anything interesting up ahead?” I ask.
“There’s a waterfall in about 5 miles. People jump off it into a pool. Look for a small sign with a picture of a waterfall.”
“Thanks,” I said, paying for the gas.
Cruising along the road to Hana I see the sign.
“Let’s go to the waterfall,” I say as I make the hard right turn.
Paula nods tentatively.
We pull up to a clearing where some cars are parked.
I hear laughter and screams as I open the door.
We have been wearing our swim suits the entire time we’ve been in Hawaii, so we are already dressed for this adventure. I secret the car key on a tire, take Paula’s hand and follow the path toward the laughter.
The path opens suddenly to a deep blue pool under a 20’ tall waterfall. The lush jungle frames a chaotic scene of swimmers paddling along the edges of the pool and people running up the path to the top of the cliff where the waterfall dives into the pool. A jumper is plunging through the air to land with an enormous splash.
The jumper swims to the shore, climbs out of the water and immediately begins to hike back up the cliff.
As soon as the pool is clear, another jumper makes the leap.
“Let’s go up Paula.” I drag her up the cliff.
At the top of the waterfall we look over the edge. We watch as others jump. The pool is very deep. No jumper touches the bottom. I look into Paula’s eyes.
“Whenever I am on the edge of something tall,” she says, “I imagine that I can jump. It can be a building, a bridge or a cliff. I can not help but think about it. I always have to talk myself out of it. It scares me.”
“The pool seems very deep and other people are not getting hurt,” I say.
“Yes, but it is water and you know I am not comfortable swimming. No. I am going back down.”
Paula hurries back down the path.
I see her arrive at the pool. I take a deep breath, step to the edge of the cliff and jump.
The air whistles in my ears as the world drops out from under me. I am suspended in space for an unexpectedly long time. The wall of the waterfall rushes next to me. As I contemplate my weightlessness a loud splashing sound envelops me. I am surrounded by liquid, still falling. I look up to watch the surface of the pool receding. Instinctively I kick my legs to propel me up.
I burst through the surface with a splashing pop of oxygen.
I cannot stop laughing as I swim to shore.
Paula is there to give me a hug and share my excitement.
“I wanna do it again. Come with me?”
She shakes her head no.
After a couple more jumps we return to the car and continue our drive around Maui.
We arrive at the Pools of ‘Ohe’o (Seven Sacred Pools).
They are a series of waterfalls and pools which cascade down a rainforest gulch near Hana.
The first waterfall is a rocky precipice with slippery wet boulders at the top. We walk up to the observation path. Paula climbs without hesitation onto the slippery rocks to get a better view.
I am horrified. Gripping the guard rail I see that a fall from the boulders is not survivable. Paula is fearless. I physically shake.
Paula is bold and determined in the face of danger. I wonder what prevented her from jumping into the pool earlier that day. Certainly it was not trepidation.
Once home, Paula tells me that she regrets not jumping from the waterfall into the pool. She wishes that she had made the leap.
A year later we sit at our kitchen table writing bucket lists of things we want to do before we die (kick the bucket). Paula puts a parachute jump on her list. I rise my eyebrows, but say nothing aloud.
Another year later a friend shows us a video of her first skydive.
“How about doing that, Paula? You can check off the parachute jump from your bucket list.”
Remembering her regret of not jumping the waterfall, Paula says, “Yes,” without hesitation.
We arrange to skydive during our vacation, a few months from then. This is a mistake. We should have just gone the next weekend. For three months our friends, coworkers and family try to convince us not to skydive.
“It is so dangerous.”
“Are you crazy?”
“My friend was killed skydiving.”
None of this dissuades Paula from skydiving. She is determined not to add another regret to her life.
At the skydiving center, Paula is an avid student.
The ground school instructor is a misogynistic terror. Because she is a woman, Paula is made to jump off a bleacher a dozen times to practice a parachute landing fall. The instructor says he wants to make sure she isn’t too fragile to skydive.
I think the old codger just wants to see her moving from feet to calf to thigh to hip to back, like some perverted dance.
In the classroom Paula absorbs the diagrams and procedures. It is all I can do to keep up with her.
She faces all the aspects of skydiving training with bold determination.
Just before boarding the airplane, Paula practices the sequence which she will perform in freefall. True to her instructions she waves her hands over her head, puts her hand on the ripcord handle and pulls. The main parachute plops out of the rig and onto the ground. Even though this is embarrassing she is undeterred. She insists that the instructor get another parachute rig so she can make the skydive.
In the airplane on jump run she moves to the door and looks down. It is a long way down.
I could jump, she thinks.
“Yes I can,” she says aloud.
Paula exits the airplane with her eyes wide open. She completes all the freefall tasks perfectly and when her parachute opens she steers it to a soft landing.
That jump changes her life.
5,000 jumps later she is one of the best skydivers in the world.
She has no regrets.