As a young teenager, I leapt a mighty leap from the cliff of life. It was a leap of faith for the bottom was nowhere in sight. I turned and looked back to see my mom, alone, waving. “I love you,” she said. The wind was cool as I began to fall. “Keep your jacket zipped tight,” my mom instructed. I was glad that I listened to her one last time.

Although I leapt hard with my young legs, I did not leap far enough. Almost instantly I struck the branches of a sapling. Like a fist from my childhood, I was startled. The whip of the branches stung badly. There, in my jacket, was a small tear. “That’s so unfair,” I blurted angrily. But I was early in my leap; I was determined. The hole is not severe, I thought to myself. And I turned my attention downward.

As I gained speed, the face of a young woman whizzed past. I recognized her vaguely. I had hurt her in the past, but I don’t remember how. I wish that I could recall. “Use your words next time,” I offered as an excuse. “Who cares,” I heard my dad say. I turned reflexively toward the sound of his voice. How could he be so thoughtless? I was alone. The voice was mine. He was me. The voice is not my fault, I lied to myself. “Yes, it is,” the truth responded: “Change.” “How?” I cried. “Own yourself,” the answer came through the wind.

But there was no time to change or heal. I was gaining speed, faster and faster. Instinctively, I reached outward with my arms to slow my descent. To my surprise, the jacket became wings as I reached and I began to soar. In, out and around dangerous outcroppings I flew. The jacket did not just keep me warm. The jacket was my cape—I could fly! I felt invincible.

Now the perils that lie ahead at the bottom were of no concern. I was in control of my journey downward. Happy images of my family and life’s accomplishments flew by. I looked to my right and to my left to see others who had leapt, too. Most were falling faster, their jackets in tatters. Some were jacketless altogether. They must know where they are going to be in such a hurry, I surmised. “Good for them,” I smiled to myself. “I wish them well.”

Unlike the others, my journey was uncertain and unknown. The reckoning of the bottom was coming, but with my jacket to protect me, I was safe. Or so I believed. I looked uneasily over at the small hole in my jacket. The fabric had torn further and was now flapping in the wind. “Honor the jacket,” my parents had taught. “Don’t tempt fate,” they warned. What did they mean? Their riddles were of no help to me now. “Use different words next time,” I blamed again. “I did not ask to leap when I did.”

My confidence undaunted, I ignored the initial turbulence. But the turbulence worsened and I began to tumble severely. I reached for the hole in my jacket, but I was helpless to fix the tear. It was too late. I was falling too fast and out of control. Striking outcropping after outcropping, my battered body finally came to rest on a ledge, humbled. I looked up to see an empty bird’s nest and my mom wagging her finger back and forth. “I love you,” she said, “Your daughters will understand in time.” “Honor the jacket,” she reminded. And with that, she pushed me from the ledge.

Suddenly, a hand grabbed mine and the turbulence was no more. I looked over to see the face of an angel. The tear in the jacket remained, but it had been patched. “Is that better?” she said. “Much,” I replied. “Where are you going?” she asked. “I don’t know, but would you like to come?” I replied, hopefully. With a squeeze of my hand and the words, “yes, I believe in you,” my journey changed forever. I was truly safe for the first time. All I needed was my angel by my side.

The fragrance of flowers was now everywhere. The warm air against my skin was telling. The bottom must now be near. I spread my wings to slow and enjoy the moment. “I love you,” my angel said, as she released my hand. “I will see you at the bottom.” I looked at her anxiously. “Own the moment,” she encouraged, “It’s time. Look for him.” “Look for whom?” I thought to myself. More riddles. What did she mean?

I landed with a deep sense of fulfillment that belied the unknown of the leap. The journey down was not what I imagined. It was painful and hard, but full of laughter, love, and discoveries that had meaning. Most importantly, I mattered to myself. I owned my journey. I was humbled by those who came to greet me—friends, family, and others who I touched unknowingly. The celebration brought tears to my eyes. “I am not worthy,” I thought to myself. All I did was leap.

Tired from my journey, I needed to rest. I looked for my angel, but she was nowhere to be found. As I searched for her in the crowd, I saw the familiar face of my dad. “Dad,” I called, “How long have you been here?” “Since you leapt,” he replied, “I’ve been here the whole time, waiting.” “How was the jacket?” he asked. “Did you know?” I exclaimed. “Of course,” he laughed, “your mom and I wove the jacket from the best of life’s principles and values. We knew you would fly to great heights if you honored the jacket.”

I thought about the wisdom of his words and the meaning of the riddle became clear. “I fell down, but I learned from my mistakes, dad,” I said, with a parent’s gratitude in my voice, “I should have given ones just like it to each of my daughters.” “I have no doubt that you did,” he reassured me. “Sorry about the hole,” he apologized, eyes downward. “That was my fault, not your mother’s, and I should have been there when you leapt.” “That’s all right,” I whispered in his ear while we hugged. “I understand better now how hard the journey can be. I wasn’t there the way that I wanted to be when my daughters leapt.” “Will you be there for them at the bottom?” he smiled. “Yes, waiting, just like you,” I smiled back.

And then we rested together, each tired from our journeys. I was not him, and he was not me, but we were one—again. “I love you, dad.” “Me, too,” he replied.