The Sun and the Sky: Finding Magic (part 4)

Skydiving
Photo by Skydive Switzerland

When I first watched my skydiving video, I couldn’t help but cringe a little. Even now, I find myself wishing for the removal of some frames and the addition of others.

The angles aren’t great, I stick my tongue out at one point, and I’m gaping and gesturing like a child. I’m embarrassed that I’m embarrassed, because isn’t it enough that I went skydiving and it was magical?

I want to control the way I look when I’m feeling a lot of emotion, or at least control how I look in the images meant to capture that emotion and carry it out into the world. I want to look open but not too open, happy yet composed, and please no awkward facial expressions or ugly crying or anything else untamed, unkempt, unhinged.

But the most moving photography of humans captures the real, raw moments. I have rarely seen such unbridled joy on my face as I did during the freefall, but I find it hard to see the beauty, to be moved by my own childlike, unmitigated wonder. I worry what others will think, that they will laugh or be uncomfortable, that I will laugh or be uncomfortable and miss out on every re-experience of Magic.

I wasn’t worrying about it at the time, but I was worrying in Alliance, Nebraska, a few weeks earlier. This was the day of the total solar eclipse. I wasn’t worrying about how I looked, but I may as well have been.

It’s hard to capture a moment and still remain fully present to that moment. That’s why I didn’t even try to photograph the eclipse. But I did want everything to be just so. I was aghast that the people around me proceeded to talk through all of totality, that cameras were clicking and distractions abounded. I wished I were on a hilltop, alone. I wished everyone was reverent and solemn in the ways I thought they should be reverent and solemn. I wished to fall into a sun-trance, but I seemed thwarted by externals.

Sometimes everything comes together splendidly, and yet it’s not enough. We feel too much or too little, or we look like we feel too much or too little, or our attention is diverted just enough that we feel, somehow, that our experience didn’t count.

I can never, it seems, experience something just once and be satisfied. The high demands I place on Magic are hard to fulfill.

And yet, Magic, Magic is everywhere. I have always loved the true stories of breaking through what we thought were barriers of the natural world, of going beyond where we thought we could. Apollo 13 was the first movie I saw in theaters, at age 6, and in college I jumped at the chance to take a niche course on the Space Race of the 1960s.

I am thrilled to the bones, moved to tears, by stories of these explorers and risk-takers. In these stories, there is a First around every corner, one moment and then another of breathless anticipation and water in the eyes. I watch my own skydiving video and I attach it to the more dramatic music in the company’s promo video, I attach it to Launch music and Leaving Port music and every other song I can think of that bespeaks adventure, so that the moment when the song reaches its crescendo is my Moment of leaving the plane.

 

No video or picture I’ve ever seen has done justice to the magic of skydiving, the magic of a total solar eclipse. They say a picture is a worth a thousand words. Dare I believe that collections of a thousand words could be worth pictures?

 

This is part four of a four-part series.

Part 1: Beginnings

Part 2: Eclipse

Part 3: Skydiving

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Here’s To Being Honest

It’s been three years since a major bend in the road of my life coincided with the start of a calendar year.

Then, I was excited. Then, I pinned all my hopes on a time of transformation overseas. And it was a time of transformation, growth, friendships. I’m grateful.

My attitude now, however, is a bit different. Still hopeful, but cautious and apprehensive and not-all-of-my-eggs-in-one-basket-anymore as I prepare to move from California to Colorado in less than a week. Too much has happened since then for me to believe that transformation will happen so easily. I’m tired.

It’s become a bit of a mantra with me that “I either feel a lot, or not at all,” and this business of saying goodbyes is of the feel-a-lot variety. So I’ve been reaching for my journal more often over the last couple weeks, finding solace and sense in pouring out and pressing through with one of my beautiful Japanese gel pens.

2014 was the year of reading more. I want 2015 to be the year of writing more. Blogging more, maybe, hopefully, but even journaling alone would fill the need … would perhaps fill it better, being without the baggage of self-promotion and insecurity that can happen in places like these when the soul isn’t quite healthy.

2012 was the best year of my life. 2014 is certainly a candidate for worst, though my perspective is certainly skewed given my closer proximity to this year than to all the other hard ones. A year of depression, loss, questioning everything, stagnation. A year where international travel was no longer an adventure, but a heavy weight. A year, metaphorically, of being in at least two constricting boxes.

Physical relocation provides ample opportunities for change, but my hopes for a better 2015 don’t — can’t — depend on that. Rather, it’s in the finding and seeking out of spaces to be honest with myself and honest with others. Over the last two years, I’ve found myself in self-imposed and externally imposed situations where I’ve felt the pressure to bite back the true, the raw, and the real in exchange for the acceptable, the sanitized, the pretty.

May this be a year of daring greatly.

Packing Light (a book review)

Packing Light coverAfter reading her book, I feel like I know Ally Vesterfelt.

Even though I know she has a blog (and that I’ve been following said blog for months now) I was sad when the book-story ended, and I wanted to know more of what happened in her life between the end of book-story and now.

But this blog is for you as much as it’s for me, so I need to start at the beginning and say that this is a book review, of sorts, of Allison Vesterfelt’s first book, Packing Light, that came out 10 days ago. In a nutshell, the book tells the story of her 50-state road trip (yes, even to Alaska and Hawaii), and what she learned along the way.

At its core, Packing Light is a book about the things in life you need to leave behind. The rest of the title says it all: Thoughts on living life with less baggage. And she isn’t just talking about physical possessions, though that is a part of it, but the emotional baggage as well, the attitudes and relationships and all the assorted “stuff” we cling to that holds us back from being the people God created us to be. The person God created her to be.

I’d been looking forward to this book for months, and it didn’t disappoint. I loved going on this journey with Ally, almost forgetting it wasn’t a novel as I wondered what would happen next with this character or that conflict. But I never forgot it was a true story, not really. Not when I “know” Ally through her blog, and now know her better still through this book.

It’s easy to get drawn into her stories from the road — of the memorable moments, the people she met, the places she visited — but the heart of the book is the heart of Ally. Without mincing words, without painting the best possible picture of herself, she lets us see herself in all her fears, insecurities, and heartaches. She’s vulnerable. And so when she explains what she learned through a particular experience, you know these aren’t platitudes and “all the right answers,” but rather the hard-won gems of one who has sought and wrestled and shed many tears.

So many times I found myself nodding in agreement, marveling at her way of putting words together with such clarity and eloquence. I’m not well read in the travel memoir genre, but this one was deep, exploring topics such as whether or not to be a “Christian writer,” the people we leave behind, the rules that can misdirect us, learning to live the life we’ve always dreamed of, letting go of fear, and so much more.

Packing Light is fun and friendly, personal and thought provoking. It may be a quick read, but it has a lot to say. I highly recommend it.

****

Ally Vesterfelt

In addition to writing, Ally is also the managing editor of Prodigal Magazine. Check out Ally’s website at http://www.allisonvesterfelt.com, and read more about her book at http://packinglightbook.com