Monday, February 19, 2007

Time "spreading" during uncertain times

Jules references this piece by a soldier in Iraq where he says:
During bad or uncertain times, time itself doesn’t stand still or slow down, it’s more like it spreads out, like each minute has its own personality and some of those personalities really want you to get to know them. That happened with me today, probably with a few of us[...]
I can relate to this time spreading perception.

Some years ago I had a parachute malfunction. It was a type known as "slow speed malfunction" - which is to say there is a parachute over your head in some state of inflation so you're not quite going down like a lawn dart. These are difficult because they require more thought. Perhaps even worse is that there actually is time for that thought.

Lots of things to keep track of.

Altitude? Are you getting close to your hard deck? If you decide to cut it away, there needs to be enough altitude left to get a good reserve opening and allow for at least a few seconds to plan a landing. The book recommends 1,200' as a hard deck. I fiddled around in "normal time" trying to fix the problem for a few thousand feet and sucked it down a tad below 1,200'. My bad. 1,000' is still plenty of room for a reserve opening though.

As the altimiter crawled down to 1,000' the mental gears change very suddenly...

It wasn't getting better.
It was time to go.
It was time to get jiggy about doing it.

Now its like one of those high speed cameras Walter Hill or John Woo would use starts running. Details are being recorded in hi-def at hundreds of frames a seconds. Each frame a mini-drama all its own.

As mentioned above, its not like time slowing really, its more like time experienced at a much finer granularity than humans are accustomed to experiencing it and remembering it.

I stop farting around with the main chute.
I deliberately look down to the release handle.
I locate it.
I reach for it with both hands.
I pull the handle down.

Now, out of my peripheral vision I see the reserve chute bag slowly leaving my back its lines paying out as it goes up (this rig was equipped with an RSL, so the RSL beat me to the reserve deployment handle).

I notice that I'm doing a slow rotation to the left as the reserve lines pay out.

Then as soon as the high speed camera started rolling it stops and BANG I'm back to normal low resolution time. The reserve is open. I land it normally.

The whole sequence between deciding to bail and the reserve opening couldn't have taken more than two seconds start to finish but the granularity of memory of those two seconds is/was fine to a degree I'd never experienced before. The reach for the cutaway handle I remember in exquisite detail. I remember my left hand wrapping over my right on the handle.

Its amazing how much "stuff" can happen in a few seconds and how detailed your memory of it can be. Most people never get to experience something like this. Nor would they want to I suppose ;-> Nothing "scary" about it though, at least for me it wasn't scary. When I landed I was just pissed off that I couldn't fix the main and had to take that reserve ride.


blogengeezer said...

For a time I was a 'packer' for a friend of mine. His experience like yours, was his description as "Being Reborn". I found this site a while back because of the 'Martin'? doing it's water splash, beach thing. Fun Site. Check mine some time
We are actually on the 'Same Page' politically it seems. Thanks for the mental support. 'Blogengeezer'

Michele said...

It was very difficult reading this post.

I've had a similar experience twice in my lifetime. The first was a near death experience when I was 12. The 2nd was a near fatal ski accident (where another skier lost control & plowed into me at top speed) and I ended going off the trail and down the mountain through trees at top speed.

In both instances not only did my thinking of options crystalize, they were interlaced with past moments in my life being flashed in my minds eye where I re-lived the experience of each moment. It wasn't pleasant.