Sometimes, you must fall to grow wings to truly fly.
|First Prize in the October
That moment in time when she was ready to leap, when she had to patiently wait for the air to catch the sail of the glider just right, that was one of the moments she savored. There was just something about that space of time, balanced at the edge of forever, when it all came down to taking that step into nothingness where if the fates didn’t align, she would be stepping into her own demise.
The adrenaline rush, the anticipation, the thrill: Jinn lived for those moments, for indeed, it was in the space of those moments she felt most alive. She looked out over the waters of the North Sea. The water was a deep blue today, the tips of the waves frothed and foamed as they crashed into themselves. For a brief moment, she looked down, down beyond her feet clinging to the very edge of the granite cliff. Far, far below, the waves toyed with the boulders lining the base. The air curled under, she felt the tug and rising to her toes, she leapt off the edge of the cliff.
Jinn caught the wave of air rising up from the sea below. It pushed her up and out where she caught the air current as it rose higher still; the air, warm from the reflected heat off the baked, dried soil. She coasted out over the ocean, high enough now that the cliff seemed a remote entity. She knew better, but the air felt so glorious, the rush of it as she rose higher, and the sheer silence as she circled round in a long, lazy oval to glide along the very edge of the cliffs. Close to the towering granite walls, using the heated air pushing off the black rocks, she flew, startling seabirds that scaled away and down.
A heartbeat later, caught by a downdraft, a miscalculation of wind and air, and she’d lost control. The glider lost elevation, spiraled and fell. Even as she’d tried to correct, even as the foamed rocks below loomed larger, even as the rescue boats whistled their alerts, the thought crossed Jinn’s mind, that it this was living on that edge. Bringing the glider out of the stall just before she hit the waves, she flattened her approach and settled into the water with a splash.
Jinn wandered aimlessly down the cobble-stoned street in Grayhaven. She’d been in Scotland for a few weeks now, and, frankly, was going out of her mind. She’d done the castle thing, couldn't understand a word people said to her, and her traveling partner, Jeff, had taken off for the next few day to play golf at St. Andrews. . Golf? How staid and dull! Even if it was a game played where golf had been born, to Jinn it was boring to the extreme.
They’d traveled to Scotland to take part in the Series 4 cliff jumps near Black Hill. These were flights made with a para-glider and then measured by height, air-time and distance. Jeff’d never gotten his chance to jump thanks to her ill-timed flight that had ended up with both her and the glider bobbing around in the North Sea. That’s what she got for wanting to get in close, to skirt the rim. Yet even as she’d been going down, she had relished the free-falling, the weightlessness of it, as if she were flying.
She’d barely missed the truck-sized boulders lining the edge of the cliff. Then according to the medics, she’d almost been suffering hypothermia by the time the save-boat maneuvered close enough to fish her out. Three men had leapt into the choppy waves to assist her. But she’d just felt warm and pumped. Everyone had made such a fuss over how close she’d come to being dashed on the rocks, but Jinn had just laughed it off. Jinn knew the risks they took, but that was a major part of the thrill. She hadn't noticed one of the men being helped out of the boat and sinking to the ground. She, wrapped in a woolen blanket, was still thinking about the sight of sun glinting off the wet rocks, glittering on grey and black and the water foaming and spewing from between the granite that formed the cliffs.
The thrill. Like caffeine to most folks, Jinn mused. It was a natural high that got her blood moving; an adrenaline rush like no other. It made her feel alive. As if she was simply more than she was normally, even if Jeff thought she was addicted to it. So what? She could think of worse things to be addicted to. Remembering back to the fight they’d had a day ago, just before Jeff took off to go play golf, Jinn could still hear the recrimination in his voice.
“One of these days you will take a thoughtless risk and kill yourself. Do you have a death wish? I don’t and I won’t stick around and watch you die. Did you even thank the men who went in after you? It is always about you and experiencing the thrill, isn't it? There is more to life than that, Jinn!”
Running her fingers through her wind-tousled cap of mahogany hair, Jinn brushed her bangs out of her deeply blue eyes. Eyes the color of the North Sea, Jeff had told her. Right. She bet his were greener than the greens where he was off knocking a little white ball around with a club. Where’s the thrill in that? She hoped he got lots of, what were they called? Birdies. She felt like giving him a bird or three. She didn't understand his whole attitude of late. He was the one who had gotten her into paragliding, bungee jumping and free falling in the first place. A bit late for him to decide he was a wuss. Who was he to say she took unnecessary risks. Wasn't that the point? Darn Jeff anyway.
Turning, and dejectedly wandering back towards town, she heard the skirl of a bagpipe on the wind. Curious, she followed the sound to where there was a break in the stonewall. Two wrought iron gates were open, the words ‘St. Basil’s Churchyard’ split between them. Peering inside, Jinn saw the bagpiper standing straight and tall on a slight mossy rise between two crooked and hunched over gravestones. A few yards away, three men, at least two of whom were clearly in their Sunday best, stood huddled together near a freshly dug grave. Beyond them, on the far side of the grave, were numerous men and women, somber and silent, all with heads bowed.
A grey-haired priest, the severe black of his skirts brushing at the newly turned earth, stood at the head of the grave looking down at the immense leather-bound Bible in his hands. As the piper played the last notes and the sound skittered away among the ancient stones, the priest began to intone the words of the ceremony.
Caught between the cemetery and the street, between feeling as if she were intruding and the desire to hear his words, between her free-wheeling world and this of simple folk grieving, Jinn simply paused, neither in nor out of the churchyard. The three men, their heads bowed, stood silently except for murmured grunts she took for an occasional amen. One of the three, the one in the middle, stood with shoulders heaving under grief, and she belatedly realized it was not a man, but a woman, clothed in a dark grey dress under a black shawl.
The priest looked up from the book in his hands and his eyes rested for a moment on the woman, now supported by the men on either side of her, before looking across and locking eyes with Jinn. Locking piecing grey eyes, which seemed to hold her fast as if they were chains of hardest steel, he began to speak.
“Dugold Kerr Bell was a fine, upstanding man who never held back from helping others. Married for forty plus years to our Maggie here, they raised four children who all lie here awaiting their da. Never did he give a thought beyond the fact that a soul needed his help. It mattered not if it meant his going out in a storm to light another fisherman home, out across the moors in the fog after a wayward child or into the sea to rescue one needing rescuing. It mattered not to him the danger of breaking ice or the possibility of waves slamming him into the rocks. It was his way and who be we to judge whether ‘twas justified or appreciated. It was his way. He worked hard, he loved hard, he laughed hard, our Dugie, and there is none to say he is not worth the grieving. He knew what it meant to give his all and he did so freely. There have been murmurings in the village, those who say it should have been the girl and not Dugold who died. Words have been muttered that she couldn’t possibly, with her lifestyle, appreciate what he gave up in his effort to save her. This is neither the way we are, nor what we, as Christians, believe. It is not what Dugie believed, either. It is not what he would have us think or believe. Giving of himself, selflessly, is what Dugold has done. Always. And we are better for it.
“Father, we commend this fine soul into Your keeping. We pray for his soul, for that of his wife, that you give her the strength she needs to get on with living, and for all those with whom Dugold interacted in this life. We pray that those whom he has helped will take his gift and then give more when their opportunity arises. We ask that flights of angel carry him into your arms and into your heart. We ask this, in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Jinn felt frozen in place. Was this one of the men who had helped her from the water? Had he died helping her? She stumbled backwards, into strong arms that held her securely, not letting her fall.
“Jeff. You came back.”
“I heard about Dugold. He slammed into the rocks while the others were pulling you aboard the boat. I had to come. I’m only sorry I missed the ceremony.”
The fingers of Jinn’s right hand traced the letters in the word churchyard on the gate. Then, grasping them around one of the bars, she looked back at the people at the graveside.
“He died helping me,” she gulped.
“He did. I hear it isn’t the first person he’d rescued. Did he save you, Jinn?”
Jinn lifted her sea-blue eyes to meet ones of deepest green. She started to speak, but they were shuffled to the side as the mourners began to leave. Her eyes now met the swollen, red-rimmed eyes of Maggie Bell and again she started to speak, but then didn’t know what to say or what she could say. There were no words.
Maggie lifted a hand to Jinn’s cheek. “He died doing as he was meant to do. There’s no one could have stopped him,” she said softly before continuing out of the churchyard.
Jinn felt a wave of dizziness and she would have fallen had not Jeff’s arms held her firmly.
“I've got you, Jinn,” he said. “I won’t let you fall.”
Jinn knew he wouldn't.