It is a Saturday afternoon, and I am staring out into pure blue, 14,000 feet above the ground, through the open hatch in the side of our tiny plane.
On the ground my partner ran through it with me. Twice. Duckwalk to door. Head leaned back on shouder. One two three go. Or is it one two go-on-three? Tip back and forward, arch your body. Arms out. Keep your mouth closed if you feel like you can’t breathe.
Staring out the open side of the plane, his instructions dissolve. Did it matter how I arched my back? Niceties, to placate a nervous jumper.
No matter what, we would fall – flying downward, into the embrace of gravity.
Here is #blamedrewscancer, as it’s root: we are talking about cancer.
Yes, it is inane. Yes, it is about Drew – for now. The point is, Drew gave us that – he gave us his struggle to make as silly or as serious as we need it to be.
Drew doesn’t really care if we say his name or what we blame. He just cares that we are talking about cancer. He wants to harness that conversation to raise awareness, hope, and donations. He wants to bring cancer into our daily dialog so we can work together to erase it rather than willfully ignore it until it touches our lives.
His plan is working. People are talking to Drew about his chemo treatments. I am talking to my friends about my grandmother. My co-workers are talking to each other about someone we lost, and how we can honor the fight that she won.
Blaming Drew’s cancer is inspiring us to live stronger, to be frank and hopeful about fighting cancer, and to show the love and support we may be feeling but afraid to say.
Inspiring us to win our battles.
Inspiring us to leap out of planes.
I have dreamt for years that I can fly, so much that I halfway believe it. It’s not an occasional foray – I can fly in every one. The rush of air past my ears and my body, weightless and free. The feeling is familiar, tucked safely under my skin.
I’ve tried to capture it outside of my dreams on playground swings and amusement park rides. I’ve looked down from trade centers, massive arches, and wrought-iron towers. I’ve ridden on airplanes and have been towed behind a boat, limbs caught up in the wind.
The closest I’ve ever come was riding my bike. It was October 12, 1998, and I was three blocks north of here in Jefferson Square park. Biking home from Anastasia’s house, I sped up until the pedals offered no more resistance. Closed my eyes and held out my arms. It only lasted for a second, but that was my first waking flight – a feeling I already knew intimately.
On my list of five things to do before I die, “fly” was first. Fly for more than those fleeting seconds of eleven years ago. Fly like my dreams.
When Drew and Chris asked if I wanted to skydive with the team, it seemed insane. I met these people online. On Twitter. Was I really going to live my dream with a bunch of strangers from the internet?
It was not insane. It was kismet. It was Drew’s whole point. Live Strong. You want to fly? What’s stopping you? Jump out of a damned plane. You want to be a singer? Don’t make an excuse. Use your voice with confidence.
You want to beat cancer? Blame it and battle it and beat the hell out of it every day with all of the power and positive energy you can muster from yourself and from everyone you’ve ever met until you defeat it.
You have cancer, but cancer does not have you.
We lean back and pitch forward, falling from plane. I arch. For a second it feels like nothing – the velocity of our bodies moving at the speed of the plane and the pull of gravity countermanding each other
Then, acceleration. Real flight, but towards the ground instead of up, up, and away like Superman or Neo.
In my mind I shrug off the man strapped to my back and the photographer waving in my face – unconsciously throwing him rock signs as he gestures towards his camera.
It is what I know beneath my skin, and more. There is no plane above or ground below. There is the rush of air past my ears and my body, weightless and free. There is limitless blue in every direction – I can’t see the ground. Gravity is for the weak-willed and falling is flying, hurtling, easy like love.
Wind blasts my limbs, buffeting my torso like a cascade of water. I feel strangely supported by the air, as if I could stand delicately on it, like snow.
That lasts for about a minute, or for the eternity of every dream I’ve ever had, depending on how I measure.
A whisper in my ear isn’t the wind, it’s my partner, long-since forgotten. I cross my arms, clenching my harness in my fists, and he pulls the cord. The parachute rides up above us, catching the wind. The harness bucks hard, and gravity is countermanded again. My stomach suspends itself.
This is a different kind of flying. Floating, perfectly controlled. Now I see the ground, and it is minuscule below us. Philadelphia rises in the distance, and i feel like we could just tip forward and head that way.
“I should tell you something.”
We are having a conversation, circa 7,000 feet.
“I dream that I can fly. Not just some of the time. Like, every dream. It’s just something I can do.”
“Yeah. And it’s just like this.”
We hang in the restored silence, falling slowly. As the ground becomes nearer I scream my trademark soprano wail and listen as it fades away with nothing to reflect against.
Eventually there is a field and a landing strip, and we have a shadow, and it grows larger and larger until our bodies meet it, wrapped once again in gravity’s close embrace and a puddle of mud.
Tonight at midnight Drew’s Blame-a-Thon begins – the reason I wound up sitting across the table from him at an Applebee’s two months ago.
In two months I have seen people and businesses do amazing things to encourage Drew and to support LiveStrong, all culminating in tomorrow’s event.
It’s about awareness and fundraising, but to me it feels halfway like faith-healing. Like, maybe if we all focus we can blame the cancer away.
Probably not. Not in one day, at least. But blaming cancer can change lives. It’s a chance to reassign the pain and bullshit in your life to something that really deserves it so you can stop making excuses and just live strong.
Blame cancer and change your life. Blame cancer and change someone else’s.
I blame Drew’s cancer for any second that I’m not living my ideal life as a stronger, faster, fiercer me.
And I am thankful for every moment that I am.