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Son, Skydiving is Dangerous

Son, Skydiving is Dangerous

Teaching our children the rewards of patience.


"Middle age has finally arrived," I said to myself as I confronted a life insurance application form for the first time ever. But as I filled in the blanks and checked off the boxes, I suddenly paused, suspended between youth and old age, as I read and reread one question midway through the form: Have you ever been skydiving?

I consider myself an honest person, so I found myself in the midst of a moral struggle as I contemplated how I should answer. The reasoning behind the question seemed obvious: why should any business gamble a quarter of a million dollars on the life of someone foolish enough to jump out of an airplane?

The way I figured it, however, there are three reasonable explanations why an otherwise sane person would do such a thing.

One, as in the case of former President George Bush, to save his life when his plane has been hit by enemy fire.

Two, also as in the case of George Bush, when one is winding down his life and figures he hasn't much of it left to lose anyway.

And three, as in my own case, when one is not yet sufficiently mature to appreciate that his life is far too precious a thing to be thrown casually out of an open hatch at 3000 feet.

Barring any of these three excuses, an insurer would be entirely justified in refusing coverage or inflating charges. But why, since I now regard jumping from an airplane as ample cause for mandatory psychiatric observation, should I be burdened with doubled insurance premiums because of a momentary lapse in good sense when I was half my present age?

As it turned out, I went with a different company, one whose application phrased the question this way: "Have you been skydiving in the last ten years?" That's much more fair, I think.

Of course, insurance companies may just be looking for excuses to jack up their prices. After all, compared to BASE jumping, ice climbing, and other extreme sports, skydiving is positively run of the mill. Could George Bush, a former president of the United States, former director of the CIA, and former member of the NRA, be so completely off-the-wall? (Never mind that the poor former first lady could hardly bear to watch her husband's escapades.)

Indeed, my diving instructor (whose name was also George) told us repeatedly: "Skydiving is no riskier than crossing the street!"

As a 19-year-old undergraduate still looking for a major course of study, life seemed to have little to offer me except cheap thrills. If something would go wrong, and I would splatter against the plowed earth of the Sacramento valley, well, what was the point of being alive if I didn't experience all life had to offer?

It goes without saying that children of all ages will be drawn like moths to the fire of every kind of sensory stimuli. It is our job as responsible adults to shield them from the flames of both real danger or virtual thrills, to gently prod them along the road to wisdom by exposing them to more rewarding and enduring highs than those brought on by adrenaline rush.

In the same way that chomping on spearmint gum deadens the palate to the subtle complexities of fine food and wine, the instant gratification of putting one's life at risk may, in the end, kill off any hope of ever savoring the subtle joys of maturity, even if those dangerous pastimes do not themselves prove fatal.

The Talmud offers the following insight into human nature: "If someone says, 'I struggled but did not achieve,' don't believe him; if he says, 'I achieved without struggle,' don't believe him; but if he says, 'I struggled and achieved,' believe him."

The Talmud goes beyond the simple axiom that there is no sense of accomplishment without exertion. It tells us that exertion and effort will inevitably produce a sense of accomplishment. And unlike the transient high produced by LSD, PCP, or any contrived brush with danger, the sense of accomplishment produced by struggle will not vanish into nothingness, leaving behind an emotional void or the anguish of physical or psychological withdrawal. It will endure, and spur us on to greater struggles and greater accomplishments.

Without intellectual effort, we would never graduate from Dr. Seuss to Shakespeare, from Marvel Comics to Monet, or from music videos to Mozart. Without psychological effort we would never learn the practical skills to succeed professionally or the interpersonal skills to succeed as spouses and parents and friends and neighbors. Without effort we would never learn to appreciate the small, subtle pleasures life has to offer because we would be ever waiting impatiently for the next emotional quick-fix.

Acquired taste is accessible to the young. As parents, we must not shy away from the challenge of inculcating patience and prudence in our children. Through persistent effort we can teach them that cultivating a taste for the more refined pleasures of life is not so hard, no harder really than falling out of an airplane.

June 13, 2004

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Visitor Comments: 8

(8) Susanna Viljanen, December 22, 2015 9:10 AM

I must disagree here

Being a skydiveress myself, I must disagree here. Skydiving is one of those activities which appear insanely dangerous but which are actually fairly safe. It is actually more dangerous to drive to the drop zone with a car than jump off an airplane. There are two reasons why skydiving is far safer than it appears: the safety culture of the sports itself and the gear which is designed to be as failsafe as possible.

Skydiving is like life itself. As long as you do exactly as your instructors tell you to do and follow the regulations like the mitzvot, you will be perfectly safe. And besides your main parachute, you will also have a reserve chute and automatic activation device should your main fail. But if you attempt to do some stupid stunts and/or break the regulations, you are in danger to bounce. Or risk the lives of others in the air.

The usual jump altitude is 13,000 ft, not 3000. Altitude is your friend. It gives time to relax, enjoy and see the world with a bird's eye view. And enough time to deploy your parachute and glide safely to ground.

The necklace I wear, the closing pin, symbolizes two things: courage and trust. It indeed requires a little bit courage to make the decision to jump off a perfectly good airplane mid-air. But also requires trust. Trust to your friends and trust to your rig. And trust to G-d.

The free fall is not a cheap trill like chemical drugs. It is a spiritual experience. It is like touching the face of G-d. I would be an Atheist without skydiving - it really touched me that deep and showed me the words of Psalm 23 true. And gliding to the ground is the closes approximation of a bird. Why do birds sing? Because they can fly.

Skydiving is not cheap thrills but a lifetime activity. It takes the whole life to learn. Even after your 1000th jump you still have a lot to learn. That can be attained only through hard work and investing effort on learning. My dream is one day to become an instructor.

(7) Anonymous, August 31, 2011 3:32 PM

Skydiving is dangerous, however ....

Perhaps there's a social reason for it. If twelve jumpers jump out of a plane all wearing parachutes, there's a very good chance some of them will live. If, however, all of the twelve decide not to jump but to land with the plane instead, but the plane crashes when it trys to land, then all of them will die. I was never in the military, but I used to hang around a skydiving club and they trained me to use parachuting equipment. I made about 200 jumps and never got hurt. Four of my instructors later got killed. I went to one memorial service and one closed coffin wake for a girl I didn't know but who had jumped from a plane I once jumped from. I shook hands with Roger Nelson, but he later died when someone ran into him while he was under canopy. His parachute collapsed and he fell to the ground.

(6) David Ash, January 31, 2011 2:48 PM

skydiving is safe yet it has the potential to be dangerous

As an inexperienced skydiver who is likely to continue with the sport, I would say "it depends" as to whether skydiving is dangerous. If one makes just a single jump then, yes, the probability of dying on that jump is infinitesimal--especially given that most drop zones are very serious about safety for first jump tandem or static line students. However many experienced skydivers do go on to make thousands--and in some cases tens of thousands--of jumps. At that point the chances of dying in the sport do become statistically significant to the point where it might be reasonable for an insurance company to be concerned. Also as Rabbi Goldson hints, being an experienced skydiver is something of a predictor of eventually pursuing riskier activities like BASE jumping. However to single out skydiving--when there are no doubt many other risky sports and other activities that people engage in--for questioning on an insurance form seems a little unfair to me. Many skydivers do just make a single jump--or a very small number like the elder ex-President Bush. For such jumpers, the sport is pretty much a one-time thrill seeking adventure like Rabbi Goldson describes--although about as safe as such an adventure can be made. For experienced skydivers, however, the sport is a continual challenge, and such jumpers will spend many hours on the ground preparing mentally and physically to perform at their best during the 60 seconds they will spend in freefall. Reaching one's peak as a skydiver can takes years of dedication and hard work just as any other human endeavor would. Getting to that point does involve risk but rigorous risk management is also key to the sport. Probably less than 10% of jumpers, however, stick with the sport beyond the one or two jump introduction that most drop zones offer.

(5) Anonymous, December 3, 2010 7:31 PM

Skydiving is dangerous? What a joke. 30 people or less die in the united states per year by skydiving. tabout 1 person every 150,000 jumps dies.

(4) Anonymous, July 28, 2010 10:39 AM

YOU guys are closed minded

first of all your missing the entire point of this piece. At least what I think is the entire point, that in life, its better when you earn it. Working hard and making a million dollars feels better than just having it handed to you. And hard work and achievement derived ONLY from hard work is the only way to achieve happiness. Not through drugs. That being said, if skydiving makes you happy, and being an instuctor is what you want to do, work hard, and you will be accomplished and happy.

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