I have this image that I can’t get out of my head.
It comes from a bunch of conversations I’ve been having with some friends of mine.
Really we wrote this together.
There is this person standing on the edge of a cliff.
They are looking out into a vast unknown space. And they know, even though they can’t quite see it, that they are staring at everything that matters to them.
They take a sharp breath in. And then, unexpectedly, they leap out into this unknown everything.
And suddenly they are falling.
They are terrified.
The air is rushing at their face, making it hard to breathe, and they are panicking, they can hardly see anything, blinded by the speed of the plummet and all the strange objects swirling around them.
Things that have no clear shape or name, things that are not recognisable continually crash into them…and they want to give up.
They nearly give up.
And then they remember this small backpack they are wearing and they wonder where it came from and they wonder what is in it.
They reach around and undo the zip and pull out meters and meters of brightly coloured silk fabric and they find scissors and a needle and thread and miles and miles of rope.
And they are as confused as hell.
They almost freeze and do nothing.
But then, something kicks in, and they start building.
They cut this and they stitch that. They start furiously piecing together a parachute. They can feel the ground is rushing closer and closer and they realise that they are nearly finished and that they might just get it done…
But the last bit of the fall just happens too quickly for them, they struggle to the very last breath, the last moment possible, and…they don’t make it.
Just as they are about to hit the ground they are unexpectedly caught by a group of people who have been standing at the bottom of the cliff. After a few moments they realise they are safe. And these people are standing all around them asking them about their adventure. Wondering what they saw on the way down. Looking at the beautifully imperfect, unfinished parachute they have woven together through all of the chaos.
Together they unpick the parachute. They fold each beautiful piece and carefully place it in the backpack along with the scissors and the thread and the rope. And once their spirits are buoyed, they have a meal together and then all go off to bed.
The next morning this figure is standing on the edge of the cliff again.
And once again they leap unexpectedly into this misty, grey everything space.
And again they are confused and build furiously and almost make it but don’t make it. And they are caught by the group and they have a meal and they go to bed and the next morning…
There they are.
Sometimes someone else is standing with them and they jump together and they build and are terrified and don’t make it and are caught and have a meal…
Sometimes there are lots of them standing on the cliff in the morning and they leap together and all the same things happen. Chaos and building and not quite making it and then a group of people catch them and then they have dinner and they go to bed…
Again and again these people step onto the cliff and leap.
Day after day.
Until one day, unexpectedly, a parachute gets made and instead of that last terrifying moment rushing at them with their heart pounding in the back of their throat, instead of that they float down and land gently on the ground.
As their feet touch the group of people are there, once again, just like normal, and they are chatting to them about the adventure, asking them what they discovered, unpicking the parachute, looking at the beauty of it, marvelling at its construction and just how well you did to get it done in time. They pack it piece by piece into the backpack and have dinner and then go off to bed as usual.
The next day this single figure is there again standing alone at the top of the cliff looking into this unknown space.
This time they run and leap.
They laugh at the chaos and they start building furiously, joyfully, wickedly enjoying every gasp and tumble. It’s frantic, but they aren’t. This unknown thing is a little clearer.
As they go about building their beautiful parachute they have the time occasionally to look down and see their friends down below them waving and cheering, they look around and see people all around them furiously building their parachutes. Some panicked, some laughing, some on their own, some in groups. As the ground rushes closer they realise they aren’t going to make it…and of course they are caught and the folding and chatting and food and sleeping happen all over again.
The next day that single figure is standing on the edge of the cliff, they run out into the furious unknown space ahead of them and as their last foot leaves the ground and they leap from the safety of earth into the everything that is important to them they think to themselves…
“This could all go terribly wrong. I can’t wait to tell my friends all about it.”
It is difficult to explain how different my life feels now that I know, now that I can see, that there are people building parachutes with me and all around me, and that there are people waiting to catch us regardless of whether we get the parachute made or not.
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Know someone who would appreciate this letter?