As she has done nearly every weekday for the past several years, Lorraine Hernandez sat next to me on the stationary bike at 24 Hour Fitness last Monday to begin her workout. After some morning small talk, and almost as though she were asking me to pass the sugar, she said, “I’m jumping out of a plane on Saturday.”
The first question I asked was how her husband Frank felt about it. “He is very upset with me, as are my kids,” she said without an ounce of remorse.
She asked me what I thought she should do.
I told her, “Don’t to let the old woman in.”
“What the heck are you talking about?” she responded.
Her perplexed look was a perfect opportunity to tell this story that I share, more than I should, with people close to my age. Lorraine is 71.
Toby Keith, the award-winning country songwriter, musician and actor, recounted this story on YouTube. It is about Toby and his friend Clint Eastwood. In case you just landed on earth, Clint is an iconic actor, director and producer.
While playing golf together, Toby casually remarked, “Somebody said you have a birthday coming up.”
“Yeah, I’m turning 88 on Monday,” responded Clint.
Toby asked him how he planned to celebrate, and Clint said he was going to shoot a movie.
“You’re going to start shooting a movie on your 88th birthday?”
“Yep,” Clint replied.
Toby asked him what keeps him going.
“I just get up every day and I don’t let the old man in,” Clint replied.
Toby recounted how he was compelled to write a song about what Clint had just said. As soon as Toby finished a rough demo of the song, he sent it to Clint’s people. After Clint heard the song, he called Toby and said, “I have a spot in the movie and I’m putting your song there.” The song “Don’t Let the Old Man In” can be heard in the movie “The Mule.” The movie is based on the true story of a World War II veteran in his 80s who takes a job as a courier for a drug cartel.
I changed the gender from “old man” to “old woman” and retold this Toby/Clint story to Lorraine.
She gave me that rare but radiant Lorraine smile that told me she understood the moral of the story.
Lorraine went on to explain that her lifelong friend, Irene Gonzalez, invited her to punctuate her 70th birthday celebration by jumping out of a plane. Lorraine said yes. She said the more people told her she was crazy and not to do it — well, that just made her want to do it even more.
She called me shortly after she made her jump. That’s when I found out the other reason Lorraine went skydiving that Saturday.
It was to keep her promise to her friend Irene but to also celebrate what would have been her son Frankie’s 49th birthday on that same Saturday. Frankie was diagnosed at the age of 3 with muscular dystrophy and the doctors explained he would probably not live past the age of 19. Frankie was 24 years old when he passed many years ago.
On her Saturday tandem skydiving jump she wore one of her favorite “Frankie” shirts.
“His shirt is now probably 30 years old and has accumulated tiny little holes," she said. “It has lost his scent, but I still remember how wonderful he smelled. Wearing that old shirt gave me the courage and peace needed to jump at 13,000 feet.”
She recounted that when she jumped, “I never felt fear. I felt so close to God and my Frankie. I shouted as loud as I could possibly scream, 'Happy birthday, Frankie, I love you!'”
She added, “My jumping showed my grandchildren, especially my girls and nieces, that fear can stop us from experiencing great things in life. Life is so short. We must not wait until it is the perfect time. Don’t let our age hinder us from experiencing life to the fullest.”
He might come knocking every morning, but do like my friend Lorraine did: Don’t let the old man in.