‘Lord of War’ – Film Review and Analysis

Arguably one of the best movies of the 2000’s and Nicholas Cage’s best performance as a lead actor, The film ‘Lord of War’, released in 2005, is a realistic and unfiltered take in the role of illegal arms dealers, who facilitate the sale and transfer of arms trafficking throughout the international arms industry, which continues to be one of the world’s most profitable endeavors. ‘Lord of War’, while nonfictional in its’ story is actually based off of the lives and exploits of different real-life arms smugglers. ‘Lord of War’ is directed by Andrew Niccol, and stars a cast of Nicholas Cage, Jared Leto, Ethan Hawke, and Bridget Moynahan.

Nicholas Cage plays Yuri Orlov, the son of Ukrainian refugees from the Soviet Union, where he and his brother, Vitaly, help their parents out in their Ukrainian restaurant as cooks and helpers. While Vitaly is somewhat satisfied with this simple life of cooking borscht and washing dishes, Yuri wants to achieve the ‘American Dream’ and get out of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where he grew up after leaving Ukraine. He struggles to grasp at any real business opportunity in order to get out of the shadow of his ordinary life in Brooklyn.

However, one day when he is dining at a restaurant in Brighton Beach, the business idea he needs comes to life for Yuri in the form of a Russian mobster killing two would-be assassins and fending off their attack with AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles. Yuri believes that there is a lot of money to made in international arms sales and decides to go into business despite the protests of his brother, Vitaly, and the fact that his parents don’t know what he’s up to.

One scene in particular that stands out in Yuri’s beginning as an illegal arms dealer is when he tells his brother that since there are so many McDonald’s and gun stores in America already, he needs his business to be international in its’ focus. At first, Yuri feels that dealing arms is comparable to serving food at a restaurant. He justifies his nefarious business by narrating to the audience that its’ providing for a part of human nature in his opinion, the instinct to kill and harm others, as documented by the “earliest human skeletons who had spears in their heads and ribcages.”

While Vitaly, Yuri’s brother has moral reservations about what Yuri is doing, he decides to join him later on as they crisscross the globe during the late 1980’s and into the 1990’s dealing with corrupt governments, genocidal dictators, and other more ruthless arms dealers as their competition. As Yuri becomes more popular and wealthy with the illegal arms business, he runs up against a by-the-book, incorruptible, and idealistic Interpol agent, Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke), who tries unsuccessfully to track Yuri’s business dealings down by air and by sea.

Despite the fact that his brother, Vitaly, becomes a drug addict, and is an unreliable business partner, Yuri continues to run his illegal arms business as a one-man show. While a fictional story, ‘Lord of War’ is based off of real life conflicts and real life people who were involved in the illegal arms trade. These conflicts include the 1982 Lebanon War, the Soviet Union’s War in Afghanistan against the Mujahedeen, the civil war in Liberia during the 1990’s, etc. The movie does not gloss over the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the impact that the end of this cold war conflict had on the rest of the world in terms of arms sales. Yuri is able to become a very wealthy and powerful arms dealer in the film due to his family connections in Ukraine and the sheer weaponry, and arsenal that the Soviet military left unused.

Like his arms business, which is run under false pretenses, he does the same with his love life as he falls for a fashion model and childhood crush, Ava Fontaine (Bridget Moynahan), who he sets himself up with under the guise of a false photo shoot. Despite the fact that his parents don’t know about his illegal dealings, he lies to his new wife regularly, and his brother ends up in a drug rehabilitation center, Yuri does not give up on the arms business because he likes it, is good at it and is unable to go straight in legal business endeavors. Howver, in the wake of all of his ‘success’, innocent men, women, and children get killed by the guns, bombs, ammunition, tanks, planes, etc. that he sells and profits off of. As the film progresses, the director makes clear that Yuri has sold his soul in this dirty trade and it may cost him his life or the lives of others close to him if he doesn’t stop.

In a way, the audience who watches ‘Lord of War’ could be most closely aligned with the perspective of the Interpol agent, Jack Valentine. He knows that Yuri is a bad person and he wants to bring him down, but will it make any difference to bring one sole arms dealer down when billions of dollars are exchanged around the world each year through both legal and illegal arms sales. Like Jack, the audience may question the nobility of bringing down one arms sales dealer like Yuri when there are dozens of them out there, and Presidents / Prime Ministers of the major countries are the biggest arms dealers of them all.

Yuri never takes full responsibility for his business dealings during the film even if the sale of his arms causes bloodshed and death. He remarks bluntly to his brother, Vitaly during one scene: We don’t talk about it. How many car salesmen talk about their work? How many cigarette salesmen talk about their work? Both their products kill more people every year than mine, at least mine comes with a safety switch. Those guys can leave their work at the office, so can I.”

In Yuri’s opinion, he may be evil, but he’s ‘necessary evil’ because there are other people or governments out there like him involved in the business, but sometimes they ‘can’t have their fingerprints on the gun.’ Despite the pressures placed on him by family, friends, and the law, Yuri is committed to doing what he does best without having the moral imperative to stop. As I don’t want to reveal the ending, the first time you see it, you may be shocked but this film doesn’t deal in black and white, and that’s what I love about it.

There are numerous shades of grey that go along with the black and white, and the ending of ‘Lord of War’ falls within those shades of gray. ‘Lord of War’ doesn’t have your typical Hollywood ending, and that’s partly what it makes it such an alluring film. On top of the exquisite directing, acting by Nicholas Cage, Jared Leto, Ethan Hawke, etc. and the deep political and philosophical themes behind this film, I highly recommend it.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the film that is very poignant and is still true twelve years after ‘Lord of War’ was released in movie theaters. “While private gunrunners continue to thrive, the world’s biggest arms suppliers are the U.S., the U.K., Russia, France, and China…they are also the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.”

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Steve Jobs – ‘On Failure’

It’s not often when the average person can gleam some wisdom or some insight from a YouTube video but there are exceptions to this fact when you start to dig deeper. One of these videos that I enjoyed viewing focuses on the late Steve Jobs, the innovative and driven entrepreneur, who was the co-founder of Apple Inc. and for the later half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century helped lead the computer and smartphone revolution around the world. While most people may know him from his appearances at developers’ conferences where he would unveil Apple’s latest invention or innovation, there is a side to Steve Jobs that some folks may overlook.

Steve Jobs wasn’t always a great success and had many failures throughout his life. Fired by the company he co-founded and having gone through product setbacks such as with the Apple III and the NeXT computer, not everything went the right way for the legendary entrepreneur at first. However, these setbacks and failures are obscured today but the massive amount of success and innovation he would bring to the world by sticking to his principles and by always taking the initiative to ‘stay hungry’ for more.

The YouTube video I’m referencing in this blog post is titled, “Steve Jobs on Failure” has over one million unique views and has been up on the website for over six years. In the video, most likely set in the 1990’s, a young Steve Jobs talks about one particular time where he took the initiative that was driven by his innate curiosity. At the beginning of the video, Jobs talks about the fact that most people don’t have the experiences they should because they never ask or inquire about them to begin with. Mr. Jobs hints at the fact that he was never afraid to ask for help from other people, especially if they were in his field of work and would be able to assist him in some way by giving him advice or by mentoring him in some capacity.

The adult Steve Jobs in the video recounts how when he was only twelve years old, he called up Bill Hewlett, the engineer and co-founder behind the massively successful information technology company known worldwide as Hewlett Packard or HP, which similarly to Apple Inc., is also based out of Silicon Valley in California. The twelve-year old Jobs introduced himself to Mr. Hewlett and simply asked him directly for help with building a frequency counter. Little Steve asked Mr. Hewlett for some spare parts that could be used in order to build an effective frequency counter. The young Steve Jobs left quite an impression on Mr. Hewlett, so much so that the co-founder of HP gave him the spare parts as well as a summer job working on an assembly job working with the nuts and bolts that help make the frequency counters at Hewlett Packard work effectively.

You can tell the way from the way that Steve reacts to Mr. Hewlett’s genuine help and generosity with giving him a job and a start to his future in information technology that it meant a lot to him both personally and professionally. Certain moments like that in our lives when somebody really gives a chance and helps us along the way to having a brighter future is a lasting memory that simply does not go away. We can only speculate what might have happened if Mr. Hewlett had instead just hung up the phone on young Steve and not helped him out at all. The world could very much be a different place had Steve not gotten that positive feedback and mentorship that we all seek in our own lives.

“I’ve never found anyone who said ‘No’ or hung up the phone when I called…I just asked.” Steve knew that there was a chance at failure when it came to reaching out to others in his field but he knew also that he had to try in order to get ahead in his life. He had to put himself out there, make connections, and learn from others in order to build his company and create successful products. I think Steve realizes that he would not be where he was as an adult without the help he received from others throughout his life. The video shows his sense of gratitude for that assistance and that he is wise enough to remember to give back to other people as well who want to be in his position one day or to be successful like he was.

“Most people never pick up the phone and call…most people never ask.” Steve is right in his assertion that those who don’t reach out for help or don’t seek out opportunities will never get to where they want to be in life. He makes the correct distinction between those people who take the initiative and those other people who let opportunities pass them by. You can dream and wish for things to happen for yourself but unless you put the pen to the paper or put your phone to your ear, you won’t accomplish that much.

Lastly, Steve notes in this video that ‘you have to be willing to fail…you got to be willing to crash and burn.” Steve Jobs like many other inventors and innovators had multiple failures beset them but they did not give up and they were not afraid to fail. Through failure, we learn from our mistakes and we get better and better at what we are trying to accomplish. With enough hard work and effort, we can push forward to achieve what we set out to do originally and so much more. When an Apple product failed to gain traction or when he was forced out of his own company, Steve Jobs like many other successful men and women did not give up and go home. They learned from their mistakes and became better at what they do.

“If you’re afraid of failing, you won’t get very far.” To put it bluntly, failure happens to everybody. Nobody in the world succeeds 100% of the time at everything they do. People like Steve Jobs recognize that this is all too true but it doesn’t deter them from their goals because they won’t stop until they achieve what they want to accomplish. In order to turn those failures into successes, you need to have an indomitable will and to let nothing stand in your way.

Instead of blaming your failures on others or giving up after a few bumps in the road, you should continue to embrace the learning process and seek help from those other people who have been successful in their lives and would be willing to offer their help to you. Steve Jobs did not become one of the most important men of the 20th century by being afraid of failure or from doing it all on his own. He sought the advice and counsel of others while never giving up even when things looked pretty bleak. That kind of mindset that he explains in the video helps us to understand why he became so successful in his life and how we can learn from his words to become successful in our own lives.

The Art of Traveling Solo

The famous English author, J.R.R. Tolkien, once wrote in his poem “All that is gold does not glitter” a line that should be noted for its’ truth and its’ profundity. The 2nd line of the poem states, “Not all those who wander are lost.” This is a fitting statement for those of us travelers who have stepped foot in another city or country being completely on our own. It’s not something that can be easily done and requires a bit of mental fortitude to be able to enjoy it despite the inherent challenges.

While most travelers like to go from place to place in packs, big groups, or in guided tours, I believe that it is necessary to try out traveling alone especially if you have prior experience in traveling to other cities and countries. Once you are comfortable with the art of traveling itself, I think it’s a good idea to challenge yourself by traveling alone. I won’t choose to judge you if you decide to never try it by I respect any fellow traveler more when they tell me that they have been by themselves in a new country for days, weeks, months, and even years at a time.

In order to travel alone successfully, I would recommend that a person be able to adapt or inherently have a few traits or characteristics that will put them more at ease with the idea. First, you have to be comfortable being alone. You have to be able to embrace the solitude of your thoughts and to be more observant of the world. This is a hard thing to accomplish for strictly extroverted people who thrive off of the energy of being around others. However, if you’re a strict introvert or fall somewhere in the middle of those two broad categories like myself, then you won’t find traveling solo as hard as pure extroverts. Sometimes, you will have to be alone in a restaurant, in a museum, or in your train/plane/taxi.

I think there’s a benefit to this because then you’re more likely to focus on the place you’re traveling to and be able to better absorb the culture, customs, and especially the food/drinks of the new place you’re traveling to. When you’re with your friends and family on a trip, you’re often wrapped up in what they’re thinking, what you’re going to do with them for the day, if they’re having a good time or not, etc. With friends and family, you’re in a mini-bubble that’s hard to break out of. When you’re traveling with another person or a group in general, you’re less likely to appreciate other aspects of the trip. How can you focus on the sheer beauty of the Coliseum in Rome, Italy when your close friend is trying to discuss the latest Game of Thrones episode with you?

Some critics of traveling solo also forget about the fact that you will still meet people during your travels to new places. You’ll only truly be alone if you never open your mouth and be social. It’s easier now than ever to connect with new people and make new friends due to the wonders of the Internet. Due to the popularity of websites like AirBNB, Couchsurfing, and the ubiquitous amount of hostels in every part of the globe, even if you travel alone for an extended period of time, it’s still easy to meet people due to the sharing economy’s emphasis on affordable, shared living spaces.

I also couldn’t forget the sheer amount of other opportunities to have language exchanges, expat gatherings, and to just make the effort to open your mouth to someone and start a conversation. I find that it’s easier to meet people on the road than it is when I’m at home because they’re curious about where you’re from, how long you have been traveling for, and what you are doing in their country, etc. and you’ll also be curious about the same things.

During my recent trip to Santa Marta, which was done solo, I was able to befriend my kind AirBNB host from Bogota, hang out with the locals at a bar, and practice my beginner Portuguese with a Brazilian woman from Rio de Janeiro. When you’re traveling alone, you really have to put yourself out there and be more social. That’s not easy for a lot of people but it’s important to try it at least once. If you have any kind of social anxiety or shyness, you’ll be able to overcome it more and more due to solo travels.

Traveling alone is something that you have to ease into over time. I think it’s wise to start with a day trip to a nearby city where you don’t know anyone and then eventually work your way up to visiting a new country by yourself for a few days or a week. Personally, the longest that I’ve traveled by myself for has been about two weeks. I’d like to eventually reach that level of a month or more on the road without anyone holding my hand. Traveling alone forces you out of your comfort zone and mentally challenges you. You have to navigate a new city and country, practice the language by yourself, and be able to handle flights, trains, and buses without the guidance of others.

While this is not easy and takes practice, you’ll feel more confident and sure of yourself as a result. The times where you could have been taking selfies with your friends or partying until the wee hours of the morning are instead focused on having a nice coffee by the river or taking your time in an art museum by going through the galleries at your own pace. Traveling solo is a good time to be selfish as you can set your schedule, your own destinations, and decide where you want to go and when you want to go. There’s nobody holding you back and that’s quite liberating. I often get a feeling of true freedom while traveling alone that’s not easily replicated.

Even if there was no one else physically with me, I have nice memories of my past solo travels. The moment when I woke up on my train to Krakow, Poland in the early morning to open my window to see fresh snow on the ground and the sun rising as we entered the train station. The feeling of pure relaxation as I enjoyed a nice mid-day cappuccino with a view of the Prague skyline in the Czech Republic, and the absolute quiet I felt as I sat on the beach in Parque Tayrona, Colombia and heard nothing but the soft, sea breeze and the waves splashing against my feet. These are the memories that I will cherish and never forget. That is why I enjoy the art of solo traveling.

CooTrans Oriente

Speeding down, swerving in and out of traffic along the ‘Ruta Caribe’ at 100-120 km/h is the well-known and distinctive mode of transportation known as the ‘CooTrans Oriente.’ These auto-buses are affordable, widely used by the locals, and timely by arriving and departing every 20 minutes from town to town on their way to and from Barranquilla.

Established over twenty-five years ago here in the Atlantico department, CooTrans Oriente has become a mainstay when it comes to transporting people, goods, and services along the coast. Because of my Spanish classes and/or due to my technical training sessions, I am often riding the CooTrans Oriente multiple times per week so I have been accustomed to the norms and rules of this transportation enterprise here on the Atlantic coast.

I have taken a lot of buses in my life so far and most have been boring and uniform in design, color, and the attitude of both drivers and passengers. However, the CooTrans Oriente is unlike any other bus I’ve ever taken before. First of all, it’s colorful with every color represented in the spectrum from white to black, red to green being shown in the exterior of the bus. Each driver is allowed to design the interior and you can often see shag carpeting used for the steering wheel or for the gear shifter.

The conductors of the buses will pay tribute to Jesus Christ, God, and the Virgin Mary with religious scripture and sayings from the Bible. In addition, often, the drivers will highlight their family members and pay tribute to them by putting their names on the front dashboards in colorful font and lettering. CooTrans Oriente is a small company but it is extremely unique in allowing the drivers to personalize the buses, especially the designs for the interiors and the back windows.

It is very difficult to imagine bus drivers in the U.S. or in Europe being allowed to design their own buses or being able to display religious symbols or sayings so openly. Each bus is similar in its CooTrans Oriente lettering and the exterior has the same colors in mostly being red and blue. However, it’s a different story when it comes to the side and back windows. I have seen various tributes to video games like ‘Gears of War’ to displays of fandom for the popular ‘Juniors’ football team of Barranquilla to intricately designed religious murals depicting ‘The Last Supper.’ It is a real joy to just watch the buses go by and try to see the different symbols, designs, and murals that each make them unique.

More than just the colors and designs of CooTrans Oriente is the culture of the bus itself. Passengers will help each other out and have also helped me out tremendously. When I’m standing up on the bus after a long day of meetings or classes and I’m carrying two bags of groceries from the grocery store, a fellow passenger will allow me to put one of my bags on their laps to ease my carrying load a bit. It’s an extremely thoughtful and kind gesture, which I have not seen replicated elsewhere in the world thus far.

Also, it is common and allowed for venders to come on the bus to sell different snacks and drinks for those passengers thirsty and/or hungry enough to want to partake in especially if there’s a lot of traffic. There is also a more personal touch on this bus as you have an ‘Ayudante’ or helper who is present to take your money for the bus fare instead of loading your money on a card or putting the money in a machine near the driver as I’m used to from riding the buses back home.

Traveling on the CooTrans Oriente is quite an experience in of itself. Drivers will often offer a rolling stop to you when passing by the bus stop, which means you’ll have to hoist yourself and climb up the stairs quickly to catch the bus before it departs without you. Certain drivers will not follow the speed limit on the highway and will usually drive very quickly at 20-30 km/h above the normal speed for autobuses. This can be a bit harrowing to deal with at first but by driving very fast, you do catch an amazing wind breeze sitting by the windows which helps alleviate the Caribbean heat. The ‘Ruta Caribe’ for part of its highway only has a one-way express/lane for either direction. There is also no barrier in the expressway present, which would separate the drivers who are going in the opposite directions along the route.

There has been many times where the bus drivers will end up driving in the lane heading in the opposite direction to avoid traffic or speed ahead of the cars/motorcars/taxis in front of them to reach their final destination quicker. I have to be honest in that this rash decision-making honestly terrified me at first but the bus drivers here are extremely experienced and knowledgeable. They will only drive onto the lane heading the opposite direction if they don’t see any cars/trucks coming head on. I am not sure about the safety record of CooTrans Oriente but I do know that the seats are very comfortable and are made of some sort of leather material. So far, I haven’t witnessed or been involved with any accidents while riding the buses so I must say that the drivers here are quite good and that they know what they are doing.

Also, without any doubt, there will always be Colombian music played through the speakers for the passengers to enjoy during their travels. Sometimes, it’s Vallenato, and other times it’s Champeta, Cumbia, etc. There was one time recently where they had a music video playing with an actual TV at the front of the bus, which was pretty cool to see. The music video had scantily clad women dancing next to the main hip hop guy as he rapped in Spanish about their physical characteristics that he enjoys the most. None of the parents with children on the bus seemed to mind the video though.

Overall, I have enjoyed riding ‘CooTrans Oriente’ so far during my time here in Colombia and will continue to do so. The buses will take you to any part of Atlantico department from what I have noticed and it’s an affordable, cost-effective way to get around from town to town. The passengers, especially those sitting down, are very courteous and will help you out with your bags and even give up your seat for you. For female passengers, especially, the ‘Ayudante’ will lend his hand to help you ladies off of the bus and able-bodied men including myself will give up our seat for you whenever necessary as well.

In many ways, ‘CooTrans Oriente’ reflects the Caribbean Colombian culture. A deep love of their music, being colorful and animated, very open with kindness and warmth even to strangers, and having a wild side as well that comes out every now and then. There’s also the distinct feeling that like the people, the CooTrans Oriente doesn’t take itself too seriously, and knows how to have a good time even when driving down the highway at 120 km/h.

The Thrill of Skydiving

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“When the parachute opens up, you have to remember to hang on tight but also to enjoy the    great view.”

 The airplane starts to whirl its engines and ascend slowly up into the atmosphere. I’m as calm as a Hindu cow trying to remain unaware of what I’m about to do. My instructor who is tied at the hip straps me in as tight as possible as a necessary safety precaution. I am still in denial about what is about to happen to me but it’s too late now. There is simply no way to turn back now.

It was my 22nd birthday and I wanted to do something special for it. I told my parents, my friends, and others what I wanted to do to celebrate the occasion. They all thought I was crazy but it was the daredevil in me that wanted to make this become a reality. The head pilot of the small Cessna plane indicates that they’ve reached a cruising altitude of 13,000 Feet (4,000 Meters) and it’s time for us to jump out.                                                                            

One of the instructors opens the plane door and gives the go-ahead to his colleagues who are doing practice jumps like it was the most natural task in the world. You have to be somewhat crazy to be a skydiving instructor and do this day-in and day-out but 15 minutes later; I will completely sympathize with why they do what they do for a living. My instructor taps me on the shoulder and says that, “it’s go time!” We both stand up and move intermittently to the door opening.

I’m in the front with him secured to my back. I can’t help but peer out into the abyss below and realize what I’m about to do. The only actual moment of sheer terror I had was when we were about to jump out of the plane. My mere mortality is on the line and the cold air and wind of the Atlantic Ocean hits me like a brick. My instructor and I push ourselves out into the deep blue sky at a top speed. The feeling was similar to what’s been said before in movies about how in the deep reach of space, “No one can hear you scream.”                                                          

That is also true at the altitude of 13,000 feet (4000 meters). Shock and bewilderment leads to joy and exhilaration within seconds as I cascade down towards the vast and beautiful scenery below me. The vast Atlantic Ocean is to my left, Long Island with its’ sandy beaches and green parks right below, and the outline of New York City’s skyline is in the far distance to my right. It’s an absolutely picaresque view and is amazingly beautiful to behold. I have never felt more alive in my life and the rush of adrenaline pulses throughout my body. Nothing has come close to this moment before now and nothing has replicated it since then. I’ve never felt so free as you scream, yelp into the air the sounds and vibrations that no one will ever hear. Those two or three minutes of descent before the parachute is deployed last for what seemed like an eternity as I take in the view and remain at peace among the loud blowing of the wind, and the clear blue sky.

After the parachute successfully opens up, I hang on tight as I come down smoothly with my instructor from the highs of launching myself out of a moving plane, and come to the realization of how the sea, the land, and the greenery really is. It’s the closest I’ll get to playing the role of an astronaut and that’s fine with me. What I have done is mundane compared to the years of training, and expertise, which they must achieve before being able to fly into space.

The instructor asks me about how I’m doing during the descent back to the landing zone and I simply reply, “Amazing. Absolutely amazing.” To see from the air where I grew up and spent my formative years from so high up is a great perk added on to this wild and unique experience. Descending to the ground was probably the trickiest part but it was incredible to be able to parachute down to our landing spot in only seven minutes time. My father meets me down near the landing zone where we took off only twenty minutes ago and asks me, “Well…How was it?” I tell him that it was, “The rush of a lifetime.”

It has been over two years ago now when I first decided to try my hand at skydiving. I don’t regret it and I look back on the experience very fondly. It is inherently risky and I do not recommend it to everyone. If you are not a thrill-seeker or a risk-taker, then it may not be for you to begin with. However, if you want to feel the most alive you’ve ever been, conquer a fear of heights, experience a breath-taking view or to really try something new, I cannot recommend skydiving enough. I’ll always remember the exhilaration and jubilation that I felt when I landed from being thousands of feet in the air mere minutes ago.

I’ve been lucky enough to ride in a hot air balloon while watching the sunrise, or parasail close to a group of islands, and drive a jetski at 60 MPH (100 km/h) but none of these experiences still compare to the thrill of skydiving. It’s one of the greatest thrills that you can ever have and I highly recommend this activity to my readers. Just remember to be safe, choose a reputable company, take deep breaths, and make sure you know what you’re getting into. I promise you that you won’t regret the experience or forget the memories that you made from going through with it. If the elderly folk in their 60’s and 70’s who were in my group on that sunny day in October two years ago can skydive at their advanced age, then so can you!