Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Cutting the Oxygen Lines

A few weeks ago, Jack graduated from college.
It was surreal.
And really really wonderful.

But time became a shape shifter.
One minute, I was holding an infant, remembering the Christmas carols I would sing to him in his first few weeks on the planet.
I'd see a kindergartener holding a ziplock baggie sheepishly:
the special card acknowledging the lost tooth was in there, but the tooth was AWOL...
possibly swallowed at lunch.
I'd remember a 4th grader frozen for the Saint Museum with a circle sticker on his hand...waiting for the button to be pushed so he could come to life and tell his story.
I could see a hungry teen cooking family favorites.
A big brother rocking out.
A graduate.


Watching him with his friends, celebrating and trying to freeze time...
trying to squeeze the last few days into a forever place in his heart...
I flashed back to my graduation and the same ambition.

At Jack's graduation ceremony, there were many interesting people making really interesting points...but my favorite was
Mellody Hobson.
She's married to George Lucas of Star Wars fame...but she's pretty amazing in her own way.
I admit I thought it would be a lame gig...filled with stories of her stellar career and talking points.

Mellody Hobson rocked it.

She reminded all of us of an explorer/daredevil named Felix Baumgartner -- an Austrian skydiver who holds the world's record for the longest freefall 
and for breaking the speed of sound with just his body. 

Felix used a weather balloon to take him up into the stratosphere.

Getting ready to jump.

Felix went up and up and up -- 24 miles up -- making the highest manned balloon flight.

Then the people guiding him from down below told Felix to disconnect the oxygen lines.

There, so high up, you can see the curvature of the earth, Mellody reminded us.
She told us the world was beautiful in this moment: peaceful and connected.

This is almost exactly how the graduates are on graduation day.

She reminded the graduates that in this moment, things are frozen and beautiful.
Things make sense.
You feel a part of a greater whole.

But, you need to disconnect the oxygen lines in order to make the jump.

When Felix is told this, he is quiet and still.
They repeat the request and still, he thinks about it.

He doesn't want to disconnect quite yet.

We all get it.
It takes guts to make the leap.
It's crazy.
It's radical.
It's life-altering.

Somehow, we all take one last deep breath and find a way to disconnect the oxygen lines...
and jump.


Mellody tells us that for Felix, the first seven seconds are everything they should be:


But in second eight, Felix goes into a violently aggressive spin.
In short: he's out of control. 
It's frightening, confusing, upsetting and to be expected.

She tells the audience that 100% of the graduates can plan on having moments just like this.

Felix actually breaks through the sound barrier during this spin.

Felix, like all of us, had within himself the tools to open the parachute -- 
even in the middle of a deadly spin.

When you watch the YouTube video, the crazy spin is barely a mention.
It is edited and highlighted to show the moments of heroism, 
not the moments of
"Oh no! WTF!"

But I'm here to advocate for those WTF moments.

That's where the most learning takes place.
That is the moment where you face your adversity head on and try like hell to open the parachute.

When Felix lands, all is forgotten.
He's a hero...breaking two world-records.
But more importantly, Felix knows he's faced his moment and won.


Last night, Jack brought a pretty small backpack, his passport and his plane reservation to 
San Francisco International Airport, ready to board a plane to Hanoi, Vietnam.

Starting your travel in Vietnam of all places seems like you're asking for 
the death spin right off the bat.

Casually, I ask Jack about this...
his response:
"Yeah, I thought that too but, I'm ready to cut the oxygen lines."

Seems Mellody's words have settled into Jack's heart too.

As we were standing at the check-in counter, Jack was asked to show his passport and visa.
What visa?

He has no visa.

He didn't even know he needed one.

** Sometimes you don't even know what questions to ask.**

This was one of those times.

We sat down discouraged and lost before we'd even begun.
How can we get a visa at 11 o'clock at night?
Do we really have to go to the Vietnamese consulate and wait three days?

Isn't that so 1980's?

Turns out that you can get a visa online and that someone in Vietnam will Live Chat with you and guide you on your way...
they might even help you open your parachute if you let them.

Meandering outside of the international airport, we found a Wallgreens who for some reason was agreeable about taking passport photos near midnight -- more requirements for the must-have visa.

We sprint through the airport.
We run a crazy obstacle course...
and around 12:30 am, China Airlines agrees that Jack does indeed have the needed visa in his email, prints it off for him, issues his boarding pass and tells him to have a very nice flight. :)

He made it past security and onto the plane with time to spare.

He found his way out of the spin.


Around 18 hours later, Jack arrived in Hanoi.
He made it!

Tomorrow, he hopes to connect with friends...and begin the adventure.
Breaking through his own barriers.
Opening his own parachute...and helping others find ways to open theirs.
Noticing the curvature of the earth.
Feeling connected.
Asking new questions that he didn't even know to ask.

He's on his way.
Tonight, I'm grateful for adventure, oxygen, taking the jump and the chance to open our parachutes.

Stay safe, Jack.
Breathe deep.
We love you.


  1. I love this. You know I love this for all the reasons that I love being a mom- and writing about it. I'm just around the corner of you need me to steady your spin.

  2. Thanks so much, Jennifer! We'll talk soon...as long as our dogs cooperate. :)