The following is an excerpt from my summer 2011 travel journal, when I accompanied some friends to their skydiving reservation in Siófok, Hungary. I didn’t jump because (1) I had already gone skydiving and (2) I didn’t want to pay the equivalant of $300USD to do it again. But I would highly recommend doing it if you haven’t already.
The Hungarian helicopter pilot gave me good instructions before boarding, and I quickly fell into his good graces when I mentioned that my father was a former A-10 pilot: "That's the toughest airplane in the sky," he said, taking note of my pride.
I climbed into the Soviet-made Mi-8 and immediately busied myself with reading the cyrillic labels and fumbling with my "photographer pass" lanyard, an overstatement at best, and a mockery at worst: I wound my silly little disposable camera tzt-tzt-tzt-click! as we ascended through the cloud cover, and I snapped shots of the cabin, the jumpers, and the sky in the porthole behind me.
I exhaled steam, alone in the below-freezing cabin after the last jumper dropped out of sight in a tiger-orange wing suit. The noise from the rotor blades sounded like Jesus Christ was coming back, and he was angry and wearing stompin' boots.
My friend Pranav was one of the first to jump, as he was seated towards the back with his tandem instructor. He was cool and collected, and as he prepared to jump I recalled something he had mentioned earlier that day: heights were his kryptonite.
The profundity of the situation now weighed heavily on me, and as he dropped out of sight, I felt a new pride in my new friend, and a deep respect for his resolve. He wagered against death and fear with nothing more than woven nylon and his instructor's confidence.
That afternoon, Pranav was my quiet hero.
"How was it?" I asked him, back on the ground. He nodded, and then smiled in a way only reborn men do.