While rolling through my Facebook feed recently, I came across a post that at first simply annoyed but then downright bothered me. The post basically said the term “Blue Skies, Black Death” or “BSBD” was an outdated, antiquated phrase that had no real meaning in today’s skydiving community. It went on to say, in a less than eloquent way, that people only used the term on Facebook to garner attention for themselves by posting a cryptic phrase used to elicit a sense of doom, the people using it were douchebags, and he would never, under any circumstances use it.
In a brief and curt response I stated that, as I had an understanding of the true meaning of BSBD, I have used it in the past and most certainly would continue to use it in the future, quoting Mr. Pat Works directly to try to help clear up the obvious confusion. (If you don’t know who Pat Works is, I seriously suggest you read up.)
“Sequential RW (now formation skydiving) was just getting started in the mid-1970s. … Jumpsuits were small. Most skydivers wore boots. Belly reserves and ripcords were the norm.
“Of course good, intelligent, cool skydivers never got caught dead. We all believed that until Jim Heydorn (thought infallible) bounced with a double total malfunction. Poof! The myth of ‘the right stuff’ vanished. If Heydorn could bounce, ANYBODY could bounce! Thus, the brighter pioneer sequential types began to notice that the quality [and] quantity of people getting killed by impact appeared random; good skydivers and bad skydivers both bounced just about as high. We noticed it was not that they screwed up, but rather that fate is the hunter and there is still a real element of chance in skydiving.
“We learned that the bright blue friendly sky was balanced, yin-yang style, by a dark foreboding ground. Since the ground snuffed the life it was [and] is death. Unsafe practices, as a group, were termed ‘black death.’ The exit count used by my 8-way teams, and several others, was ‘Blue-Sky-Black-Death.’ … While the black-death thing was an insider phrase which translated to, ‘Hey y’all, lets avoid danger up there,’ it later got adopted and/or banned by folks who did not and do not understand what it means.
“So just as ‘Goodbye’ means ‘God be with you,’ ‘Blue Skies, Black Death’ is a salute to the sky [and] earth that means something like, ‘Lovely Up There; Watch Out.’” —Pat Works
Truth be told, I actually agree with the original Facebook post—to a small degree. There is no doubt that people who simply post “BSBD” on their wall, waiting for the barrage of “What happened?” or “Oh no! Who was it?” is not the best way in the world to use the phrase, but you still have to take into account why they’ve chosen to use it.
If a high-profile skydiver that a jumper has only read about, never met and know little about goes in, and the first thing they do is plaster BSBD on their wall the instant they hear the news, well then yeah, that person is a fucking douche.
Yet if a colleague, a friend, a BROTHER or SISTER in the sport leaves us, then BSBD is the most appropriate tribute I can think of. Blue Skies Black Death, simply put, is a way of honoring the fallen with love and respect, while reminding all of those brothers and sisters left behind to please be careful. To please heed the warning. To realize that not one of us is bullet proof, and that every measure must be taken, on every jump, every day to ensure that the next BSBD isn’t a tribute to them.
Does the phrase “I love you” have any less meaning when said sincerely by someone who truly means it simply because some complete twat out there tosses it around without any true feeling behind it? Does the fact that some frat fuck who tells every girl he wants to bang he loves them destroy its meaning if said sincerely? Of course it doesn’t, as any rational person would most certainly agree. BSBD is exactly the same in my opinion.
As I said in my reply to that post, I have used in the past, and will continue to use in the future the phrase “Blue Skies, Black Death” as a tribute to those that have passed, and a warning to those who remain behind. I understand the true meaning of and the feeling behind the phrase, and believe it to have a very special place in our community.
If you, like the original author of the disparaging post, believe that BSBD has no place in modern skydiving and BASE, then I wholeheartedly support not only your opinion on the matter, but your right to refrain from its use. But I also not only expect, but downright demand, that for those of us who choose to use it and look upon it as a fitting tribute to our loved and lost, you allow us to do so without suggesting we’re all attention seeking sycophants just looking to grab the most comments on fucking Facebook.
So, for all those we’ve lost, and all those still here, I say most sincerely, Blue Skies, Black Death.
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