My Happy Thought

I wasn’t actively looking for it but I found my happy thought. It was there all along, right next to memories of horrific crimes and my mother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe. It wasn’t toys at Christmas, or sleigh bells, or snow. It wasn’t a mermaid lagoon, or a pirate’s cave, or being an Indian brave. Peter Pan told Wendy, “Think of the happiest things; it’s the same as having wings.” For me, the happiest thing was having wings. My happy thought was jumping out of an airplane.

I can rely on things like tiramisu, hot towels out of the dryer, and walking in the summer rain to summon a smile but it’s been a long time since I felt a smile bubble up through my chest. It’s been a long time since I felt real joy. I’ve had a good life. And I’ve had some unique experiences that have challenged me. For instance, I once spent 5 minutes standing next to a running SUV in a deserted beach parking lot at dusk while both my ex and his new wife were under it, checking its undercarriage. But I wanted more. I wanted joy. I knew that I would find it just outside of a plane at 10,000 feet.

On my birthday, my mother, my brother Jeff and my friend Cheryl drove to Providence. Their gift to me was sharing in the joy I sought. My mother was excited albeit a little tense. Jeff was relaxed. After all, he’s genetically predisposed to do the sort of things that I like to do. Cheryl was a nervous wreck. She reminded me that she would torment me for eternity if she died in a parachuting accident. She wasn’t at all grateful that I had prepared for such an accident by buying a special pastel colored garbage bag just for her.

When we turned down the dead end road leading to the Boston Providence Skydiving Center, I thought Cheryl was going to faint. It was a low budget place, a trailer with a tiny sign and a port-a-potty. I started to hope they sold Prozac smoothies. She relaxed a little when she met the staff, a group of friendly, knowledgeable people. They weren’t crazy thrill seekers with wild eyes, although some, the ones who wear camera equipment and free fall backwards, must have stayed on the tilt-a-whirl a few minutes too long.

Jeff and my mother went first. Jeff relished the excitement of free falling but felt bored by the glide to earth under the open canopy. My mother touched down with a huge smile and a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. She’s a Mom who leads by example, even if it means jumping out of a plane first. Funny, it was the only time I’d seen her without a purse. I don’t know which surprised me more, that she jumped or that she went somewhere without her purse.

Cheryl and I went up together, along with my teddy bear, Wim, who always travels with me. While Cheryl babbled incessantly, wearing a pinched smile despite the gorgeous Brazilian she was strapped to, I dozed. She’d always said she’d never go off a cliff for me, Thelma and Louise style, but she was about to eat her words.

I jumped first. It was absolutely amazing.

I’d expected, and hoped for, a little twinge of fear when they opened the door of the plane but I was relaxed and eager to leave the comfort zone. Sitting dangling out of the plane with nothing but my tailbone touching, I could look down at the earth. It was far enough away to resemble a black and white photograph. I felt anticipation but no fear or anxiety or dread. For three weeks, I’d smiled every time I imagined stepping out of the plane. I was ready to fly.

Butterflies fluttered in my stomach when we left the plane and entered the air. The initial drop was glorious. I was elated. I was flying! The roaring in my ears was not air rushing by me but me rushing through the air! The free fall lasted 45 incredible seconds. We fell at 200 feet per second but there was plenty of time to look around. It seemed that the ground rose to meet me, bringing the monochrome ponds and fields to life in brilliant color. When the chute opened, I, too, became bored. How can one be content with drifting under a canopy after having experienced flight?

The landing was bit of a letdown. I had to remind myself that there are no beginnings or endings, just movement. The grass was a stepping-stone to my next jump, or my next adventure, whichever comes first. Cheryl landed right behind me, on a stepping-stone to the rest of her life. She’d challenged herself immensely, conquering a terrible fear. She left the drop zone ready to kick down the door to her future.

We all celebrated on the tailgate of Cheryl’s truck with Krispy Kremes and champagne while Cheryl and my mother discussed their new roles as “the coolest Mom” and “the coolest Granny” in the world. Risk always has its rewards.

Peter Pan said it all, “Think of all the joy you’ll find, when you leave the world behind and bid your cares goodbye. You can fly.”

Blue skies.

Jill Wragg is a retired police officer in Massachusetts.
She can be reached at

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