My father loved to parachute. Give him a free afternoon and a plane, and he’d find a way to jump out of it. He loved the exhilaration, the adrenalin, the feeling of freedom. And there was the anticipation. He loved liftoff and the slight jump in his stomach when there was nothing holding him to the ground any longer.
When he was in the air, it was just him in the wide open universe. Nothing above him, nothing below him. Nothing to become, and no thought of what had happened yesterday. There was a cord to pull and an open patch of ground far in the distance.
I watched him jump for the first time when I was about twelve years old. From my vantage point, there wasn’t a lot to see for quite a while. I saw the plane take off and then it was gone. A minute, maybe two, and the sound of the propellers was a memory. And then it was just empty sky. Maybe it was ten minutes, or twenty, but to my impatient young mind, it was eternity. Finally, the distant whirring. Then the dot in the sky. Then several tiny little blooms of color against the bright blue. My dad was the orange one.
A minute, maybe two. Now they were definitely men, hanging by a few tiny little tethers to a piece of fabric. A random gust of wind threatened to send my father towards the distant tree line, but he deftly repositioned himself and did whatever parachutists do to control the direction of their descent. Of course none of this was known to me. I just saw that he was headed for trees one minute, and the next he was back on track. My father landed… not so gently… and toppled over, his parachute irreverently enveloping him and threatening to drag him away if another gust of wind came along.
But he was too skilled for that. He appeared almost instantly, free of his ties and standing proud. I felt like I had made the jump myself. My heart was racing, my face flushed.
When the whole thing was over, I asked my dad about parachuting. How did it feel? How many times have you jumped? Have you ever gotten hurt?
One thing stuck in my mind from that conversation. I said, “Dad, are you scared when you jump?”
“Of course I’m scared! You’re looking out of a plane and you’re going to jump and there’s nothing at all beneath you. It’s terrifying!”
I was puzzled. “So how do you do it?”
“You jump,” he replied, with his usual wry grin.
Fear is one of the most powerful human emotions. Maybe it’s the most powerful. But my dad taught me something that has stayed with me for my entire life. Fear cannot control us. No matter how terrified we are of something, we can take the step we know we need to take. We can jump.
Yesterday I told you the beginning of the tale of Kavi and his quest for knowledge. Today I wanted you to know how I learned to overcome fear. The two are intertwined, of course. Kavi’s first experience was with the people of the Island of the God Who Dwells in the Mountain of Fire. They were good people, and they had a lot to offer young Kavi. He was hungry and they gave him food. He was thirsty and they gave him drink. When he needed a place to sleep, they gave without reservation.
But there was something sinister lurking beneath the hospitality. The Elders wanted Kavi to stay with them and abandon his quest before it had even begun. At first, they tried to reason with him by telling him that there was no reason for him to continue his quest. After all, the Elders were the wisest of the wise — or so they said. Kavi saw the level of their conviction. They believed with all of their hearts that they were the wisest of the wise.
The offer was very tempting. After all, they had rescued him from peril. He had been in a horrible place, and they had pulled him out of the water. He might have died had it not been for their appearance. He owed them a debt of gratitude.
But they had a secret, and Kavi exposed it. He learned that they were afraid. They had not been to the other islands, and they believed that if they tried to go, horrible things would happen to them. They believed these things even though nobody had ever seen anyone punished. In fact, the whole time he was there, he never saw the God Who Dwells in the Mountain, either.
When Kavi slipped off into the night, he wasn’t necessarily rejecting the Elders. He was rejecting fear. Maybe the Elders were right. Maybe they were the wisest of the wise. But Kavi couldn’t know that until he had seen it for himself. Who is the fool — the man who claims to be wise or the man who believes him without proof?
As he sailed into the night, Kavi knew that he might be punished horribly. But he didn’t think it would happen. It was a risk he was willing to take. His father hadn’t warned him of any such fate, and surely if there was a real danger, he would have. And if this God Who Dwells in the Mountain was so jealous that he would not allow Kavi to make his own decision without threats of retribution, then he wasn’t worthy of much adoration in any case.
Kavi would visit the other islands. He would learn all he could learn from each of them. When he was done, if it turned out that the Elders were right, then he would return. If not, then things would be better for him for being brave. He had learned a valuable lesson. Sometimes fear is there to protect us, and sometimes it keeps us from becoming. Whenever fear threatens to lock us on our island, and prevent us from learning all we can learn, then that is the fear that keeps us from becoming. When we experience that fear, it’s time to jump.