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Kevin Cullen

Grabbing insight’s rip cord while falling 10,000 feet

Jason Jolicoeur, moments after landing his first skydive in Barnstable.

Jason Jolicoeur, moments after landing his first skydive in Barnstable.

Jason Jolicoeur woke up with the dawn one day this month and crept downstairs. The house in Foxborough was deathly quiet, his wife and twin 4-year-old boys fast asleep.

Over coffee, he pondered what he was about to do. Did he have the stomach to actually go through with it?

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At the door, he turned back and went to his boys and hugged them. He didn’t want to be melodramatic, but you never know. That’s the thing about life. You just never know.

He didn’t tell his wife where he was going. He was probably afraid she’d try to talk him out of it. He didn’t tell anybody what he was going to do. He just got in his car and drove.

At 39, Jason Jolicoeur was having not so much a midlife crisis as a midlife reckoning. He works for Clarks, the shoe company, and his bosses had recently promoted him. They wanted him to do more public speaking, at work, at sales conferences. They wanted him to more forcefully sell himself and their product.

They were asking a lot, because he never craved the spotlight. He always felt a bit self-conscious in front of crowds. He wasn’t a natural at it. But now it was expected of him. He was being pushed, inexorably, out of his comfort zone.

On this day, his plan was to push himself, to leave that zone entirely.

He drove on, as the first shards of light filtered through the trees that line Interstate 495. He took the exit onto Route 25 and, later, as his car began the steep climb over the Bourne Bridge he thought to himself how high that great expanse of steel seems. He kept his eyes forward, resisting the urge to glance down at the majesty of the Cape Cod Canal.

When he got to the place, in Barnstable, he was taken aback. He had expected something grander, a terminal of some sort. But it was just a field and a few small planes. There were groups of young women, waiting, and he thought: If they can jump out of a plane, so can I.

“This is not a carnival ride,” the skydiving instructor told them, demanding their attention. “This is a life-and-death situation.”

To emphasize his point, he said that just a few days before, a 26-year-old corrections officer was killed and his instructor critically injured when their parachute didn’t open fully during a jump on Long Island.

Jason gulped and tried to reassure himself, remembering that scene in “The World According to Garp” when Robin Williams agrees to buy a house moments after a plane crashes into it, reasoning, “What’re the odds of that happening again?”

It was a long walk from under the shady tree where he got his instructions to the prop plane idling in the middle of the field. He looked at the pilot, a crusty old guy who liked his cigarettes, and decided he had probably flown combat missions in ’Nam. Jason couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

It was much louder in the plane than he expected. There was no door. As the plane slowly made its ascent, the cars and people below got smaller and smaller.

“How high are we now?” he yelled to the instructor.

“Two thousand!” the guy yelled back.

“How high are we going?” Jason asked.

“Ten thousand!” the guy replied.

Oh boy, Jason thought. He realized he could tap out, change his mind before the rip cord ever got pulled. It was like that moment, at a wedding, when they ask if anyone knows a reason why the marriage shouldn’t take place. He had to speak up now or forever hold his peace.

Instead, he did as he was told. He did not jump out of the plane as much as he squeezed out of it. It was like climbing out of the backseat of a two-door sportscar.

For a moment, his body was halfway out, hanging there, and he was staring down at the ground, 10,000 feet below.

It was in that split-second, as they tumbled out, tethered to each other, that Jason Jolicoeur had a moment of doubt. But it was swept away by the rushing air as he fell.

“It feels like you’re in a convertible, with the wind rushing over you,” he said. “When the chute was pulled, I thought I had broken free from my instructor’s harness. You go instantly from horizontal to vertical. Everything just stops, and you’re floating, looking down. It’s surreal. Everything just seems to move slowly, and there’s hardly any noise.

“And as I was floating, I was thinking. You have all these moments in life. You grow up and go to school, then you go to college, then you get married, then you have kids, and you’re working. And then you hit your late 30s, and the parachute gets pulled and you’re floating. When you’re floating, you’ve got to stop and just enjoy the moment.

“And so I’m floating down to earth, thinking that I’ve got to slow down and enjoy this middle part of my life. Enjoy my wife, my kids. Don’t get upset at the little stuff, when the kids splash water out of the tub. Don’t hold onto resentments. Just let things go. Just live in the moment and enjoy it, instead of looking at the past with regret, or looking toward the future with anxiety.”

The exhilaration lasted longer than he expected. Back on the ground, everything seemed to him bigger, brighter. When the adrenaline rush subsided, he drove home, thinking maybe it’s time to buy that motorcycle for his father. For years, they’ve talked about riding up to Alaska on motorcycles together.

Jason Jolicoeur said that if you’re asking why, the better question is, why not?

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.
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