Perilous Discovery

By Sam Mattson

Photo by Pixabay
I was relaxing in a lawn chair on a sunny patio overlooking a bay in Mexico when my uncle suggested we go paragliding. I’d never heard of it, but it sounded dangerous and fun. We were in a secluded port town only accessible by boat, so it wouldn’t be a very formal experience. There were no release forms to sign or lessons to take. All you had to do was hand over $200 and be willing to follow directions. I’ve always thought of myself as an adventurous person, so I pushed down what little misgivings I had about the situation and agreed to try it.

The next day I found myself riding up the mountain in the back of a dusty pickup truck and then watching the “professionals” unpack and lay out gear. That’s when I learned that paragliding involves strapping yourself into a harness, laying a wide parachute out behind you, and running forward until the parachute you’re pulling catches an updraft of air and lifts you off of the ground.“You have to keep running,” the para-gliders said. “You have to keep moving in order for the parachute to spread out and take off.”

They had cleared a wide path at the top of the mountain that slanted down to a cliff. My uncle went first and as I watched him and his instructor lift off of the ground, I began to feel more confident in the safety of the situation. But then when it was my turn, the weather changed. The updraft disappeared and the light breeze vanished with it.

Two hours later, my para-glider and I were still waiting in the mid-day sun, strapped in and ready to go whenever the weather decided to cooperate with us. But the longer we waited for the right conditions to resurface, the more anxious — and sunburned — I became. Finally, the instructor decided that there was probably enough of a breeze for the initial liftoff, and we prepared to run towards the drop off.

I don’t know if you’ve ever run and jumped off of a cliff with a guy and a parachute strapped to your back, but it’s one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. As we ran towards the edge of the mountain clearing, I expected to be lifted up into the air as the para-gliders before me had been. But as the edge of the cliff came and went, all I could feel was gravity pulling us down. In that one moment, everything stopped. There was just me, endless blue sky, and a four-story drop to the ground.

This is the only time in my life where I’ve ever experienced slow motion. Thoughts criss-crossed my mind as I tried to make sense of the situation. Why isnt our parachute working? Is this a big enough fall to break my legs? If I black out, I wont feel any pain. Wait a minute. Am I going to die?? Im too young to die! I havent even graduated from college yet! All I wanted to do was have some funI didnt sign up for death! What happens next?? I definitely havent been good enough in my short life to go to heaven. God, I swear that if you save me I will live my life for you! Im not ready to die! Please!

As we tumbled downwards my left side slammed into a thicket of thorn bushes on a ledge jutting out from the cliff wall and my instructor’s weight added to the impact. Just before we hit the ground, our parachute spread out and yanked us back into the sky. As we glided through the air I searched myself for serious injuries. My shoulder screamed in pain and I noticed countless thorns embedded in my exposed skin, but I had lived.

All I could think of was that moment when time had stopped, and the overwhelming feeling that I’d had that I hadn’t lived up to my purpose in life, that I wasn’t following God’s will like I had intended. I was just a college student who wanted to try crazy things and have adventures. I hadn’t thought about dying before, but it certainly put a lot of things in perspective for me. God has a plan for each of our