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Monday, October 15, 2012

Risk Takers

Yesterday, I watched a man jump out of a capsule attached to a balloon and free fall from over 127,000 feet (twenty-five miles) high. Not my usual television viewing fare. It was billed as a Mission to the Edge of Space. Felix Baumgartner made history by reaching higher in a manned balloon and falling faster than anyone ever had before. He fell so fast he broke the sound barrier (Mach 1). And survived.

Why would anyone risk his life doing something so dangerous? That’s the same question I asked this summer when Nik Wallenda walked a tightrope over Niagara Falls (yep, watched that one, too). Is it the same reason given for climbing a mountain—because it’s there? To break a record? Fame and glory? Science?

At first, I thought yesterday’s jump was another daredevil stunt. I was amazed at the preparations, the huge crew involved, the amount of television time dedicated to such a risky endeavor. Of course, announcers have to keep talking so there’s no dead air and give us statistics and describe the risks. How else can they keep viewers’ eyes glued to the TV for well over two and a half hours watching a balloon rise? Blame my glued eyes on Hubs. He happened across this event while watching “Mythbusters”. Need I say more?

Actually, there were scientific reasons for this dangerous stunt, the chief of which was whether anyone could survive bailing out at ultra-high altitudes. Another was whether spacesuits would protect the bailer. The space jump proved both and more. My brain, which appears to be hardwired into taking new info and seeking a practical application, immediately thought of astronauts bailing out right before breaking through the atmosphere.

All practicality aside, I kept thinking about the risk taker’s family, which the cameras turned to repeatedly during both the space jump and the tightrope walk. What was the mother/wife thinking as she watched the death-defying feat? Forget all the scientific rationale. Forget the glory and/or money. It must be the same feeling that spouses/parents experience watching their astronaut launch into space.

As a mother, I watched my babies grow, take their first tentative steps, protected them as best I could, but short of swathing them in bubble wrap there was nothing I could do to prevent them from hurting themselves as they fell. I bit my tongue and held my breath each time they dared to do something dangerous—climbing a slide, riding a bike, getting on the kindergarten bus, going off to college. In a mother’s heart, aren’t the early risks just as dangerous as a space jump?

In my concluding book of the Switched series, the hero’s mother reveals how she really felt about her son becoming an astronaut. Her fears, her anxieties. When asked why she never said anything before, she replies that she would never deny her son his dreams. 

Is that how the space jumper’s mother felt when she first learned what he planned to do? Did she say don’t go? Or, like my hero’s mother, did she keep her fears in her heart? We protect our children as best we can—then give them wings to fly to their dreams.


  1. If anyone is interested, here's a link to watch the space jump: http://www.space.com/17923-supersonic-skydive-space-jump-explained-infographic.html

  2. What an intellectual post, Diane. One every mother can releate to. And thank you for the link. Felix is amazing.
    -R.T. Wolfe

  3. Oh my gosh, and I thought it was hard to send my youngest off to kindergarten this year. I can't imagine what his mother and the rest of his family were going through. Great post, Diane! :)

  4. I often wonder what it is that makes certain people take the risks they do. I'm just the opposite; definitely a scardy cat.

  5. Great post, Diane. I can't imagine what the mother must have been feeling. My kids are all grown, but I never stop worrying about them. I also encourage them to follow their dreams, but I'm afraid I couldn't keep my fears to myself. :-)

  6. You guys make me very happy to know when I hit on a topic that resonates. I hate roller coasters and heights. When they showed Felix standing on a skateboard-size ledge, my heart was in my throat. I was terrified looking down through the TV. And when he let go . . . Indescribable. Heart stopping.

    Thanks for your comments.

  7. Hi, saw Alicia's tweet and popped on over.

    I came across this guy too, and also watched Nik Wallenda walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls. Believe me when I say, this is NOT my kind of entertainment. I could burst into tears for their families! I'm the over-protective older mom and it's really hard not to point out the dangers of life to my daughter. She's 29 now. She tells me her friends poke fun at her because she's STILL a safety kid. Yep, I made her practice yelling, "He's not my Daddy!" :) I still text her food recalls: Samonella chicken, foreign objects in the lettuce! No wonder her friends poke fun! At least she doesn't hate me. Good post. When I see guys risking life, I have to breathe a prayer for their families, and thank God they aren't mine!

  8. Great post, Diane. I, of course, knew nothing about it, so thank you for the link! I'll have to watch! I agree, nothing is harder than watching your child head straight into danger. I have to contrast danger from a "stunt" like this, or, for example, a dangerous sport, like auto racing, with the danger faced by service members or first responders. At least with a stunt/experiment, the mom/wife faces it and (hopefully) can breathe easy, until the next event. I imagine that the mother or wife (any loved one) of a soldier or police officer or firefighter has to face this fear every day.

    1. Leah, I'm so glad you pointed out service members & first responders. Well said.


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