My limbs tensed as the wind whistled through the valley below. “Is this a bad idea?” I asked myself. The grassy fields seemed so welcoming to my feet, the trees sloping down the mountainside, as the clouds skipped across the green meadows. Lights from the city of Geneva shined brightly through cracks of night’s arrival. My view of the valley from the top of the mountain was simply–breathtaking. I surely don’t need to run off the mountain to enjoy my evening. There must be several different activities I can partake in that don’t require a nineteen page waiver.
However, before I could head back to my friends and enjoy the rest of my evening, the Frenchman attached to my back yelled, “Run!” Instinctively, I picked up the web of safety harnesses that entangled my feet and dashed to the edge of the French Alps. As the cliff rapidly approached, I doubted the effectiveness of the green sail flapping violently behind me. My short and so far uneventful life was relying on a piece of Chinese fabric that I could easily rip with my own hands. Connected to my harness by only four thin cords, the actual safety of my “safety” equipment began to seem less and less reliable as I inched ever closer to the edge.
Unable to watch myself run off a cliff, I closed my eyes. Even though I couldn’t see the edge approaching, the wind violently slapping my face was a rather alarming reminder of my rapidly impending demise.
I understand that most people would simply stop running, sit down to watch the sunset, and call it a day. Unfortunately, most people did not have the pleasure of being strapped to the chest of massive Frenchman. If I stopped running, we wouldn’t run off the cliff. My French compadre would trip over my legs, causing us to tumble down the mountain. Call it a falsely inflated ego, but I didn’t really want people to say in my obituary, “Oh, poor Tom. He tripped and fell off a mountain.” I wanted them to say, “That guy Tom was awesome! He willingly ran off a mountain with a French guy attached to his back!” Needless to say, I kept running.
For the next few seconds, my arms pumped sluggishly while my legs struggled to keep up. Every step felt like my last. Until, suddenly, my feet were no longer walking on the mountain but now stepped on the clouds.
Dangling over hundreds of evergreen trees, my body slowly began to slip out of my harness. Death surely awaited me if I fell. Am I really destined to die attempting to paraglide in the French Alps? What would my friends say at my funeral? Who the hell convinced me to do this anyway? Questions came flooding into my mind, as gravity pulled on me with all its force. Clutching the safety straps with all of my strength, my lower body was no longer within the harness. Panic set in as I came to terms with my own mortality.
“Sit! Sit! It is a seat” yelled my French guide over the wind’s roaring. It took a few moments for his words to fully register in my brain that was more that occupied with girl-like screams. A seat? That would have been good information to share with me before we were several thousand feet above the valley, but I held my tongue. My complaint would not be heard over the wind anyway. Pulling my legs back into the paragliding equipment, I leaned back into a comfortable position and looked up for the first time, seeing the clouds stretched over the setting sun.
Time stopped as the French skyline entranced me with its glorious spectacle. The gold rays of the sun hid behind the mountain tops. When I rose above the mountainside, I watched the golden star come out of hiding for the few moments before dusk arrived to play with the night sky. It torched the horizon, leaving every cloud with vibrant orange rays bursting through its insides. In the pastures below, cows continued with their activities without realizing the show taking place in the miles above their pastures.
We glided around the mountainside, spiraling downward before suddenly rising back to watch the sun’s final performance. The wind tickled my face, forcing me into a euphoric smile. I hear, “You ok?” but didn’t even respond. So encompassed in the sheer beauty of God’s creation, I lost all ability to speak. Instead, I burst into hysteric laughter. My friends below told me afterwards they still hear my laugh bouncing through the October night.
I began the decent to the original launching point, still captivated by the sun’s countenance. The feeling of flight fleeting my body, I parted ways with my sunset. The sun slowly slipped back into its hiding place while my friends began to appear before me. I glided into the grassy meadow, still wearing my grin and laughing uncontrollably. My words were lost in clouds above the Alps, yet I didn’t mind. For the moment, I was perfectly content with lying in the warm grass that embraced me within its open arms, as I closed my eyes and returned to the sun still dancing in my mind.