Reid Ferland knew his hobby would be his death. Skydiving had been his passion since the days when he and his brothers would climb to the roof of the barn with their mom’s good linen sheets. With more than eleven thousand jumps logged, no one else was really surprised either on the night they scraped him off the ground.
For some of us, choosing how we live is also choosing how we die. Reid was a skydiver, and that’s the thing about skydiving: if you truly love it, it’s not a matter of if anymore, just when. For Reid Ferland, when came a little sooner than expected, but not too much.
I think he died a happy man.
No one really understood what happened that night. Reid was in good shape, in good spirits, and according to his team, he was alert, perhaps even more so than you’d expect for a jump scheduled at 11:30 pm. Nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. They all left the plane together with Reid, their videographer, not too far behind. Everything was really pretty much normal until they pulled their rip cords and Reid shot past them in the dark. No one could offer an explanation as to why he didn’t pull his.
“How tragic,” my wife said when we heard about it on the news the next day.
“He died because he wanted to,” I replied.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
It wasn’t something I was sure I could explain, but I think I saw Reid Ferland the night he died. In order to understand what went through Reid’s mind, there are some things you must know. He was seventy-two, a widower on his 11,111th skydive, and well…you kind of had to be there.
The night sky has always been Nature’s greatest beauty. On a clear night, she reveals the deepest reaches of the galaxy in a spectacular explosion of celestial glory. It’s a backdrop of splendor upon which millions of dreaming eyes have painted hunters and bears and dragons. Inspirations were born there that would one day carry space craft to the end of our solar system and beyond. But the astonishing beauty of the night sky is what it’s like to be in it, to see the world – the clouds, the city lights, the glow of the horizon – from above, without the intrusion of airplane windows.
I am not so very unlike Reid Ferland. I have a passion I will follow until the day I die, and like Reid, there’s a decent chance, though less of one, that my passion will one day be the means of my demise. I am a thermal airship navigator, and I was flying that night, not far from where Reid and his team made his last jump. It was a beautiful night decorated with brushstrokes of wispy cloud cover illuminated in moonlight like a grand pillow, a perfect final landing place.
The forensics team investigating his death was surprised by my call, but they confirmed my suspicion. The last thing on Reid’s film was my balloon. As he fell through that soft blanket of moisture, his eyes caught something he had never seen before in more than eleven thousand jumps. He filmed it, he turned off his camera, and he chose his moment.
© 2014 Anne Schilde