Entering My 8th Decade: December 9, 2014


Today I am 69 and tomorrow I turn 70. I will no longer be an invert, a number that reads the same right-side up and upside down--69 reads the same whether I am standing on my feet or standing on my head. Very few birthdays hold this special magic. Besides 69, the only other invert ages are 1, 8, 11, 88 and 96. The numbers 69 and 96 are unique because they are the sole invert ages that contain two different digits. I am leaving behind a special number.  

As I enter my 70's, I consider how my new number and its parts might be special without considering  inversion. There are 7 days in a week, 7 notes in the diatonic scale, 7 continents, 7 seas, 7 wonders of the world, the 7th inning stretch and 7 colors in the rainbow. The pH balance for pure water is 7 and the circle formed by zero is pure perfection. Is there a certain purity as I turn 70 and enter my 8th decade? If I consider only the decade I am jumping into—my 8th—it is an invert! In a way, I can continue to be an invert. Even better, turn the 8 on its side and it becomes infinity.

Is this important? Somehow, I crave balance whether I am standing right side up or upside down. If something remains the same, regardless, it holds pure truth of sorts. I have spent 7 decades observing, learning and seeking truth. I may be no closer to the answers than when I was one year old which might be the purist of all ages.

Turning 30 – Another Milestone

My thoughts return to a time just before I turned 30. All my life up to that age, I had always said that I wanted to go sky diving. Well, the bell was tolling because I was turning 30—I was getting old. It was time to stop talking and begin doing—before it was too late. So I thought.

It was a good decision, not because too late might have been approaching --no, I have years to go yet—but because it was a defining moment for me.

It was time to search for where I could jump out of a plane.

At that time, I was co-owner of a camera shop with friend Barry Monaco and ran the store from Monday through Saturday late afternoon. The sky diving business I found in Woodbine, Maryland required several hours of ground school before anyone could do their first static line jump. At this time, jumping from a plane was always solo. There was no such thing as tandem jumps with an experienced skydiver. Although Woodbine did not offer ground school on Sundays, they told me that they might offer it if I could guarantee a minimum of six people. Okay, I said, and began a search for people willing to pay $50 each for several hours of ground school and an opportunity to jump out of an airplane. Besides myself, friend Barry agreed, Larry from the Baltimore Camera Club, a teacher from Benjamin Franklin Junior High where I was teaching and maybe two friends of his.

With a willing jump group formed, we set a Sunday date and showed up at Woodbine. Ground school included instructions on how to climb out onto the plane’s strut, arch our backs and let go when the instructor shouted to us. It also included horror photos of accidents when people did not follow instructions and sat too close to the open plane door before the dive. We were told what to do in case we landed in a tree. Then there were numerous practice landings jumping from a barrel onto the ground and rolling properly to avoid injuries.

After ground school, it was time to suit up and prepare for our virgin jump. While I was volunteering to be in the first group, one of the other instructors had taken a jump, had a bad landing and was taken off in an ambulance with a broken wrist.

Never mind. I was psyched. I followed all instructions and was the first to make my way out onto the plane’s strut. I held on tightly, not wanting the incredible wind power to push me off before I was ready. I arched my back as we had practiced and let go when the instructor’s voice told me.

My memory of this moment was a fearless silent dangling moment of infinity. I heard nothing but my soaring spirit, all alone above the ground below. Time seemed scrambled and it stretched out in my head like gooey taffy minutes. Of course, I really knew it would be a short time before I would land. Even though the pilot and instructors had made calculations about location and time of jump from the air, at first I couldn’t find the airport. Once I located it and saw the target, my sense of time seemed to speed up and I tried to manipulate the chute’s toggles so I would land on the target.

However, I managed only to land in a farmer’s field of corn at which time the wind picked up and re-inflated my chute, dragging my 110-pound body along, destroying baby corn plants. During my struggle to get up, I was thinking that the farmer would not be too happy with the destruction I was leaving behind. I knew the instructor wasn’t happy because he kept shouting at me, “Get up! Get up!” I was upset with him because he didn’t come to help me and to save the corn. I heard the instructor’s voice through the bullhorn, “Goddam it! I said get up!!!” I got up.

Among the others in our group, Larry landed in a tree. Because the wind had picked up and made for unsafe conditions, Barry had to return on another day and eventually had a successful jump. I remember hearing that the other would-be-jumpers never returned for their jumps.

Defining Moment

As a defining moment, this experience showed me that I wasn’t all talk and that I would not finish this life with this wish still on my bucket list. And maybe I was a little bolder than I thought. Even more, the altitude experience altered my attitude.  If I could jump out of a plane, what else could I do?

Since then, I divorced and remarried. David Ettlin, husband number two, taught me about unconditional love in a relationship and that has made all the difference. I became a mother twice within a year. I took photos as I was giving birth to our daughter and a year later an 8 ½-year-old stepdaughter arrived. These daughters have stretched my perspective and have taught me patience and the joy of giving. After another eight years, I returned to the demands and rewards of teaching and have kept in touch with many of my former students who continue to teach and inspire me. I received a Fulbright award which sent me to Japan for three weeks, an experience that continues to enrich my life with new friendships and understandings. I earned a Doctor of Communications Design from the University of Baltimore when I turned 60. And I returned to photography, the art that I love.

Possibly the “letting go” was the pinnacle of my experience of jumping out of the plane…a defining moment that forever changed my perspective and seemed to be a catalyst for all the good things that followed.  At that time, what a great way to enter my fourth decade, just the beginning of  new joys and challenges!

Now as I enter my eighth decade, I wonder what gifts each day will bring. It will be my choice whether or not to accept it. If I do, then I have a choice what to do with this gift.  I will share with you every day this year as I open myself to these future 365 gifts.

(This is the introduction to a 365 project during my 70th year. Each day I will find a gift the day brings and illustrate and write about it .)
>NEXT -  Day 1 Beginnings

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  1. What great achievements, you're now my heroine! Funky, vibrant, intelligent, beautiful, caring, a cat lover, a people lover, maintain an open home to strangers, spirited, funny, artistic. ....the list goes on. But best of all you're my friend! :) :)

  2. Wow! Such a nice comment! Don't forget the laughs you two brought us during your visit and how much you have enriched our lives.


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