Tag Archives: family

The Verdict

We left the dinner table and turned the television on to public broadcasting—the stolid, unflashy journalism of non-commercial news. PBS allowed us to take a pass on the stacked rows of talking heads, the frenetic split screens, and the emergency-of-the-day theme music of the major media outlets.

We watched, heartsick, as the Ferguson prosecutor unrolled his strange presentation. My husband’s face growing harder, the kids trying to figure out—as we all were—what he was actually saying in his weird, meandering speech.

Eventually, we turned the television off. The family wandered off to their routine pursuits, I slowly worked in the kitchen, listening to radio coverage and pausing now and again to check the rage burning its way through Twitter.

My nephew, a journalism student at a university in Missouri, tweeted that he couldn’t pull away from the Ferguson coverage focus on his homework. In  his classes, he’s learning what journalism is meant to be; why it matters; how to be a good journalist. On this night he was applying those lessons to what he saw before him as Ferguson erupted in pain and disappointment on the television screen.

We tweeted back and forth a bit. He wrote about seeing history in the making, about his hopes that the turmoil would lead to change.

Our brief exchange reminded me of so many things.

I remembered the excitement of seeing history unfolding before me when I was his age, my eyes increasingly opened to the world outside my own small environment.

The Challenger Explosion — The Solidarity Movement — The Fall of the Berlin Wall — The Breakup of the Soviet Union  —  The AIDS crisis— Tiananmen Square — Mandela’s Release — The Invasion of Kuwait — The Dismantling of Apartheid — The Dayton Accords  — so many others.

I remembered the names of people. The change-makers becoming icons before our eyes  because they acted on their convictions or because they unintentionally became the face of a movement that changed things for the better.

Christa McAuliffe — Lech Walesa — Nelson Mandela — Ryan White — Randy Shilts  — Václav Havel —Desmond Tutu — the anonymous protestor who stood alone in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square — so many others.

I remembered beginning to understand that behind those familiar faces, those big names, stood many unacknowledged and unnamed people who worked alongside them to make change happen.

I remembered how their hard-fought optimism seemed to sweep the cobwebs away from the world.

On the night the Ferguson verdict was announced and I stood in the kitchen tweeting with my nephew I knew—just as I knew yesterday when the Garner verdict was announced—that my college self, that naïve, optimistic college girl, would never have believed this.

That optimistic college girl would never have believed  that in 2014 she’d find herself standing in the kitchen listening to the despair and rage of the protestors in Ferguson, Missouri, who have had enough of blatant racism and brutality by police. Or that a few days later another, similar verdict would set off more protests, centering this time in New York.

She would never have believed that she’d witness an important historical moment revealing not how far we’ve come, but how long we’ve stood still, looking over our shoulders at a past we haven’t come close to leaving behind.

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Imprint

Names (redux)*

I come from a family in which the three women have two names and the two men each have a single, short name. (Insert the ubiquitous  “You must be Catholic” quip here.)

The double names of my mother and sister roll off the tongue; mine is full of consonants and seems to flummox most casual acquaintances on our first meeting. But I persist in claiming the whole thing because I am not a “Mary.”

“Do you go by Mary or by the whole thing?” people ask optimistically. This usually occurs in a doctor’s or dentist’s waiting room–bless them for even asking.

“The whole thing,” I reply. I can almost see the inward sigh under the professional exterior. If I like the person, I’ll add, “Or you can call me ‘MC’ if it’s easier.”

I’ll let you guess what ubiquitous quip often follows that.

 

****************************************************************

*I was inspired to write this after reading an essay called Names on the new blog The Five Hundreds.

*****************************************************************

Please ignore any advertisements you may see on this site.

4 Comments

Filed under Imprint, Uncategorized

Summer Afternoon: A Moment

I’m at the creek at the farm. I am ten or eleven years old, lying on my stomach on a big flat rock jutting into the low creek, the surface of its lazy trickle of water radiating the heat of summer. Dappled sunlight lights the creek bed lining the bottom of the narrow hollow I’d scrambled down hours before. It’s a while past noon now, and the shadows of the trees along the slopes are just beginning to stretch over me.

I’m looking in the water of a small pool set against the bank, deeper than most of the little water pockets created when the spring melt eroded the sides of the hills sloping above, but not by much. If I lie still I can see water bugs skating along the surface, crayfish scuttling along the bottom, maybe a salamander—black with red or yellow spots—if I pry a stick or stone from the mash of wet leaves and mud at the waterline. The cool water feels good on my hands as I lightly wave them on the surface. Dragonflies zip back and forth. It’s a sleepy time of day.

I don’t know how I do it—maybe I toss a stone in or poke the wrong part of the mud with a stick—but suddenly there is a startled water snake, a black slithering “S” winding its way across the pool. It stops under the hanging tree roots on the far side, turns its head, unhinges its jaws and opens its wide, white-cheeked mouth at me, curving fangs at the ready. It’s not a large snake. It’s not close enough to be dangerous, but this snake has had enough of my meddling. I have threatened it and I’m supposed to pay the price. Cottonmouth. Water Moccasin.

It’s a small one. I do not fear it. After all, I’ve read all the Little House on the Prairie books. I have one of them in the bag lying next to me on this warm rock in the sun.

This is what I have learned from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novels. Nature is beautiful and dangerous and endlessly fascinating. When a girl is in nature, when she sets off to explore the wilderness—even in the relatively tame creek beds of southern Ohio—she must show the proper respect. It is up to the girl to get herself out of sticky situations when they arise.

I remain on my stone, staring, and the snake remains in the shelter of the bank, threatening, until we both get bored and move on to other things. No snake bites today.

*****************************************************************

Please ignore any advertisements you may see on this site.

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under A Moment, Imprint, Sun

Foundation

When I was in college my parents sold the weekend property—“the farm”— they had bought when I was a child. The cabin and the forty acres it stood on were a giant playground on which I spent a great deal of my childhood. It was the perfect place for a kid with a large imagination, a peaceful place where every day irritants like sibling warfare and family squabbles never seemed to matter. Everyone loosened up a bit when we pulled into the long, overgrown driveway.

There was a place of mystery at the farm. A short distance from the cabin was a mound. It was a rather small, horseshoe-shaped mound, but to me as a child it was huge. I liked to think it was an ancient Indian mound even after my father explained that it was the foundation of the house that had once stood on the property. All evidence pointed that way, though I didn’t want it to. The mound was located next to the old iron hand pump where we still got our water, worn stone steps led from the pump into the mound—the root cellar—and we found several broken stoneware plates embedded into the soil.

The ruined foundation was beautiful to me. Grass grew over the two sides of the horseshoe, long and unmown. Trees shaded the curve where it bent in on itself. They were young trees, some walnut, mostly maple. Grapes grew at the base of the right side. On the left side was the green-painted pump and, at the end, a dead tree.

The dead tree was one of my favorite perches. Both the mound and its dead tree were on top of a hill, and I could stand on a broken-off branch at the base of the tree and lean against its decaying trunk and look out across the valley. I could see our land as it sloped down and out of sight into the creek bed and then rose up again on the other side as someone else’s property— it looked the same in reverse, the upward slope mirroring ours. The tiny white farmhouse at the top of that property was just visible from my tree.

I wondered if the farmer across the valley had known the people who had lived in the house on the mound. I wished to know their history. I made up stories about them.

The steps that led down to the center of the mound were well set. Only a few had cracks running across them. They were rough, hand hewn from the rock that covered the hills. Each stone was rectangular, wide, and thick. Even after such long exposure to the elements, the steps were even and steady. Other than the steps, the pump, the mound, and the occasional bits and pieces of crockery, there was not a trace left of the house that had once stood there.

As my brother, sister, and I grew older, the inevitable happened. The farm had lost its novelty. We became preoccupied with basketball games, dances, and our friends. Much to my father’s disappointment, the three of us joined our parents for trips to the farm with less and less often and, finally, not at all. The lives of each of us moved in new directions. My parents and I moved to a new city and my brother and sister went to college. The farm remained where it was, further distanced from us by geography. Reluctantly, my father sold it.

When I think back on that horseshoe-shaped mound—even at a remove of over 25 years—it is easy to imagine what happened to the people who once lived there. The children probably grew up and away from the farm. They followed paths they thought were better, destinations that held new mysteries, new experiences. They left the mossy steps, the broken dishes, the footprint of their house behind them, just as we left the farm behind us, too.

I miss the farm. I regret that I let the last few years of driving down the long gravel driveway go by without savoring them. It was a place that played an important part of who I was—of who I am even now—and I feel a bond with the unknown family who once inhabited the same patch of earth that we did.

I hope that their memories of the place were as fond as mine are, and I hope that any regrets they may have had were only those of leaving a place that was much loved.

****

A note on the text: This essay is an odd collaboration between me and myself. In the spring of 1990, when I was a senior at Ohio University, I took a nature writing course with the poet John Haines, who was spending the year in Athens as a visiting professor. Springtime in SE Ohio, in the foothills of the Appalacian Mountains, is glorious, and it was the perfect time to take such a course. I wrote a version of this essay–then called “The Mound”–for that class. 

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on an idea that has its origins at the farm. I’d completely forgotten “The Mound.”  For whatever reason, I found myself rummaging through old boxes this week and there it was. A sheaf of papers from my nature writing class, typed out on my portable electric typewriter. This new version has been revised and edited by yours truly.

Funny how that happens.

****

Please ignore any advertisements you may see on this site.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Imprint, Root and Branch

Three Excerpts

I’ve been a little behind with posting excerpts from my ski blog over at OutdoorsNW Magazine. Here are some tidbits from my last three essays, click on the links for the complete texts. Enjoy!

From The Poles You Save May Be Your Own:

“’Hey, wait a second and I can help you,’ I said.

But, she took a step – whoosh – and was gone, rocketing down the slope upside-down and on her back. She eventually came to a stop, halfway down, a ski and two poles marking her crooked descent. The other ski was almost out of sight. The girl sat up as I made my way down, gathering her gear along the way.

By the time we got to the bottom, the instructor had made it over to meet us.

‘Thank you so much! Whoever you are!’ he said, smiling.

I’ll admit it. There was a split second there, the slightest moment, when I felt a little like a superhero – the mysterious stranger appearing in the nick of time to rescue the innocent bystander from imminent peril.”

From Vittels

“I could have made a New Year’s resolution that we’d become the family that packs cut-up fruit, artisanal sandwiches on home-baked bread and tubs brimming with quinoa salad for lunch on the weekend, but the truth of our ski food lies in two realms: the easy and the practical.

What will get us out the door in the shortest time possible? What is transportable? And, most importantly, what will we actually eat on a day in the mountains? (Historical note: not fruit and not salads.)”

From What Kind of Parents Let Their Kids…?

“Years ago I stood on a slope in utter disbelief as my 4-year-old, so tiny she had to be picked up and put on the seat by a lifty, sat alone on the lift chair, legs straight, skis just barely clearing the edge of the seat. Right above my head she went, a tiny fluff of down perched high above the snow. I’d been spying on her class from behind a rise, and she had no idea that my heart was pounding in my throat as I realized she could fall off that thing.

What was I doing, allowing this to happen? What if she was terrified all alone up there? What if the worst happened? What kind of parent lets her little kid ride up a lift by herself?”

***************************************************************

Please ignore any advertisements you may see on this page.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Flat Rate Archives*

The boxes are sitting on my Seattle steps, bright white against the dark, mildew-stained stairs. I heft them up; they’re surprisingly heavy.  I elbow my way inside the front door and drop them on the table with a thump.  The red and blue lettering reveals nothing about what’s inside, though I have my suspicions. I find scissors and slide one blade through the clear packing tape.

Flat rate boxes are a marvel:  we can fit anything we want into them, no matter how heavy, and ship them across the country for one low price.  My dusty storage boxes in Ohio, so long forgotten, are being downsized.  My mother is emboldened by the low cost. She is shipping the detritus of my youth to me one medium-sized, flat-rate box at a time.

But what to do with them?

This is my dilemma.  My drawers are already filled with scraps, bits, pieces.  Newspaper articles, half-finished poems, notes for haikus, drawings from the kids, kudos given long ago for acts unremembered.  Post cards, lists, film negatives.  My mind drifts backwards, always has.

These thin, nondescript cardboard boxes contain the elusive, fragmentary stuff of memory.  Their arrival has hurled me headlong into a hurricane rush of imagery, words, and emotion.  Long ago memories are again fresh as the rain that soaked the cardboard edges of the boxes as they sat on the front steps waiting for me.

I pull out stacks of letters, their envelopes still crisp after so many years in the dark. There are dozens of them, all mixed together. The letters smell of paper dust and old libraries. I think back to my days working in the rare books collection of the library during college. Long afternoons spent in the climate-controlled vault, shelving rare editions, books that only researchers with special permissions had access to. Hours spent reading and organizing the personal correspondence of journalism magnate E.W. Scripps—the thin onionskin paper, letters typed in duplicate by an anonymous, probably overworked, secretary. I was trained to treat envelopes, postage, paper with the utmost respect and care. Most of them are digitized now, but the hardcopies are still hoarded in the archives as treasures of a bygone age.

This flat-rate archive spans my own bygone age.  It is evidence of a particularly transition-ridden time: moving to a new town, the change from high school to college, the shift from undergraduate to graduate school. I see the handwriting and, even before I focus enough to read the names, I know which of my long ago friends sent each one.

The letters inside these envelopes echo back to me the shared experience we all had of leaving home for the first time and making our way in the world. But even if I didn’t have the letters themselves, the envelopes are artifacts enough for anyone to follow our journey into adulthood. The dates stamped on the outside show a flurry of letter writing at the start of these years, a tapering off in the middle, and then, eventually, the letters come to an end as we gain confidence in where we’re headed. The addresses show our moves from one place to another, from cheap apartment to cheap apartment, with brief layovers at our parents’ houses.  The later letters are typed out on computers, their dot-matrix ink now fading.

When I rifle through these boxes, trying to decide how to handle this rush of memory, I see the handwriting of my two grandmothers. I catch a glimpse of the precisely written addresses, the classically formed letters–themselves icons of a lost era. These letters bring my grandmothers vividly to mind in a way photographs of them do not. Photos show their images, but from a formal distance. Photographs show my grandparents on “occasions,” but the letters are based everyday life.

I hear their voices, again, through words on the page. The “God bless you!” at the end of each letter from Grandma Lynch.  Grandma Flynn’s funny expressions, “We have green grass again—and we also have scads of something else—Box Elder bugs. They are driving me up the wall.”

On visits to Wisconsin when I was a child, I lingered in their kitchens, listening while they worked and talked “grown up” talk with my mother. I didn’t know who they were talking about and didn’t really care. I just wanted to be in their domains, to listen to their voices, to absorb their presence. The letters they later wrote to me were my admission as an equal into that grown up world. My grandmothers summarized for me in their letters what they always told my mother in the kitchen: who was at the dinner party, which relatives were coming to town, what was happening at church, the description of a new recipe, a little bit of gossip.

These pieces of paper are an inheritance from my grandmothers. Their letters are a physical manifestation of love.  Each of my grandmothers selected the stationery, took time from her day to write and tell me what had happened in her life, carefully folded and creased the paper, sealed it, and sent it out from Wisconsin to wherever I happened to be.

Each of the letters from friends, scrawled in the wee hours of the morning, is a gift, too. A gift of time and friendship that cannot be replicated with a text message or social media update. Each moment described, each question pondered, each “I just wanted to say hi” required a conscious effort. A handwritten letter is a time-oriented task, a true investment in friendship and connection.

It’s been years since I received—or sent–a wonderfully thick, handwritten letter full of news and observations. With the rush of technology changing every aspect of how we communicate, I often hear and, to be honest, worry a little about the death of this or that: the death of the book, the death of traditional newspapers, the death of handwriting. I comfort myself knowing that technological advances often signal a sort of evolution rather than annihilation, but I know this is not true of the letter. I knew long before the advent of the laptop and the internet that the art of letter writing was on its deathbed, and that is one of the reasons I kept this jumbled archive in the corner of my parents’ dark basement.

*******

This essay first appeared in the October 2011 issue of Hippocampus Magazine. Because of a kind comment he made on my first published essay, I met a very talented blogger, Mr. London Street, whose entertaining and thoughtful observations of life inspired me to start this blog. He introduced me to most of the other bloggers on my Favorites List. Sadly, Mr. London Street is retiring from the blogging business, but his blog is still available, so I do hope you’ll check it out.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Root and Branch, Uncategorized

Faith and the Fall Line*

“You’re ready for Chair Two,” He says, eyes behind the impenetrable black of his sunglasses.

I look around the parking lot, a rare sunny day at Alpental. The girls are eating grilled-cheese sandwiches cooked up on the camp stove, chattering away with their ski friends between lessons. Sixty miles from rainy Seattle, it’s a blue-bird day up in the mountains. I think about the people down at sea level waiting out the drizzle we’d left early in the morning. Did they have an inkling of what they were missing?

“You’ve said all season this is your year to do it. Snow’s great up there. Sun’s shining. You’re ready.”

I stall, rooting around for another potato chip, taking a swig of beer. “I don’t know…how’s the entrance?”  I’ve heard tales of the entrance to International, a double-black diamond ski run.

This is the traditional question experienced Chair Two skiers ask one another on the lift:  “How’s the entrance?”  On a late winter day, after several months of snow, the answer is most often a mellow, “Good.”  The rest of the time the answer varies: “icy,” “terrible,” “hardcore,” “zero visibility,” “I’m sure it will get better if it warms up some.”

Michael hasn’t been down International yet today, but he’s had a fun ski on a single-black diamond run on the upper mountain. He’s sure that with the great conditions, International is the place to go. He’s convinced I’m ready for it. After all, I’ve skied all the black diamonds on the lower mountain. Eight-year-old Megan is convinced, too, “Do it, Mommy! I’ve been on it with my class two times this year!” She’s feeling the pride.

****

Comfort Zone n. …2. the level at which  one functions with ease and familiarity.

Line of demarcation n: a boundary marking something off from something else

****

I feel like a fraud when I see the sign at the base of Chair Two: “EXPERT SKIERS ONLY! There is no easy way down.” Looking back, stomach churning, I glance over the heads of the “dudes” laughing and joking comfortably behind me as they wait in a rag tag line. These are the expert skiers.

Michael urges me ahead, “Remember. These guys don’t like to wait and they’ll be pissed if there’s an empty chair. It seems slow, but you’ve got to be ready when the chair comes up.”A rickety double chair appears suddenly from behind the bearded lift operator. He grabs it to slow it just long enough for us to wedge ourselves in the tiny seats.

“And you’re off!” he says and gives us a slight push, already turning towards the next chair.

We are away immediately, traveling up a cable that sags ominously between each lift tower. My heart pounds more rapidly with every bob of the chair on the line. The angle of now bowing line would be steeper if the cable were taut. This lift was built in 1967, the year I was born. A thought flashes across my mind. What is the life span of a chair lift? We cross over the heads of hotshots zipping down the deep moguls under us; we are low enough to whack their helmets with the tips of our skis if they catch air.

Up and up. Michael points out the beauty of the cliff faces, the cornices across the other side of the bowl, the skiers whipping down the narrow chutes, jumping over rocks. Between bobs of the cable, trying not to move my head too much so I don’t fall off the little chair, I pretend to look at what he points out. I am becoming more nervous with each lift tower that passes, with each foot of altitude gained, with each dip towards the earth as we move along the cable. I am on the easiest ride on the upper mountain. I am nauseous.

***

Life span n. 1: the average length of life of a kind of organism or of a material object esp. in a particular environment or under specified circumstances. 2: the duration of existence of an individual.

***

Michael falls silent, relaxing as I take deep breaths, trying to get myself out of this increasing anxiety. My fingers tingle as the chair delivers us closer to the lift shack at the top, 1,000 feet from where we started the ride. Spread beneath it is a large sign listing the names of the expert runs: Upper International, Widow Maker, Adrenalin, Snake Dance, Shot Six…. I see black diamonds, exclamation points all over it. The easiest way down, the sign declares, is Edelweiss Bowl, a single black diamond run. Michael points to the opposite side of the shack. Upper International is that way. There are two black diamonds next to its name.

With a final lift, the chair swings into line with the shack. In front of me is the steepest and shortest off-ramp I’ve ever seen. It ends abruptly in a wall of snow, but there are skiers congregated in front of it, making it even shorter. I imagine careening into them, knocking them over like bowling pins in a cartoon, poles strewn everywhere, skis akimbo, everyone yelling at me. “What the hell are you doing up here, you fucking idiot? Experts only!”

***

Imposter Syndrome: Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are morecompetent than they believe themselves to be. (Wikipedia)

***

Michael pushes off down the ramp, takes a sharp right at the bottom, and stops to look over the boundary rope about 10 feet away from the crowd. I notice that the thin orange ribbon “rope” is the only thing between me and a terrifying cliff edge. We have reached 5,450 feet, and Michael only notices the horizon. His voice full of awe, he names the mountains we can see on this glorious day: Chair Peak, Snoqualmie Mountain, Guye Peak, The Tooth. We can even see Mt. Baker nearly 100 miles away, its great white head rising from the hazy foothills surrounding it.

I just “uh, huh” politely. Even with my life at stake, the old lessons in manners are still automatic. I don’t care at all about the mountains’ majesty. I’m resentful that Michael is mellow enough to enjoy the view, that he doesn’t seem to notice I am so scared. I’m resentful that somehow I’m going to have to go down a run that’s at the bottom of this cliff, and he’s responsible for making me do it.

“Okay, let’s go. Just follow me.” He smiles encouragingly. “We’ll take the lower entrance, it’s easier.”

“I’m really nervous, Michael.” I finally just say it. “I’m not sure I can do this.”

“You have to. How else are you going to get down?”  Logical. Calm.

Damn.

***

Logical adj …2: capable of reasoning or of using reason in an orderly cogent fashion.

***

The lower entrance is easier? Moguls bar the way between the view point and the lower entrance. The dudes whip past, easily dipping and dancing their way around me. I feel conspicuous lumbering my way carefully in and out, feeling light-headed as I look for Michael and the drop-in. It occurs to me that my flamboyantly designed ski pants, raspberry jacket, and bronze ski helmet with pink goggles are not optimal wardrobe choices for blending into a crowd.

Glancing up, I see what I don’t expect. A line of people. The dudes have come to a halt. Michael, having stopped to wait for me, waves me over.

“Okay, it’s a little challenging. There’s some ice through here and the path is narrow. Just watch me and follow what I do.”

I look over the edge of the drop-in at a path snaking its way along the rock face under the cliff we had just left behind. A ski patroller is mid-path, skis off, muscling broken chunks of rock back into the rock face. Skiers who had blasted past me seconds before are now gingerly sidestepping down a path more narrow than their skis, exposed rock and patches of ice causing them to hesitate. They move almost daintily as they negotiate the entrance, then disappear with a “whoop!” when they hit the bowl and drop out of sight over the edge.

I don’t want to think about that edge.

Michael makes his way down; it doesn’t take him as long as I think it should. He waves at me, points down a fall line that I can’t see, yells something I can’t hear.

The pressure of the line building up behind me forces me to move. I am shaking, concentrating on each step. I feel the scrape of ice and rock under my skis. I hear the punch of my pole tip as I push it into the snow on my left, practically horizontal to my hip. My right pole slides through the powder into air. There is no purchase. I am freaking out, my nerves feel like they are shattering, but there is one thing I know. I refuse to make an ass of myself here.

***

Ass n. sometimes vulgar : a stupid…person <made an ~ of himself> — often compounded with a preceding adjective <don’t be a [dumb-]ass>

***

Somehow I make it into the run. Unable to drum up the courage to make a sharp turn straight downhill, I keep edging my way across the face of the slope. The dudes are rushing past me, taking the steep moguls smoothly, gracefully negotiating the paths cut deep around the bumps. Their routes are a series of beautifully linked moves: bend at the knees, slide through the curve, bounce up, bend and curve, slide, bend and curve, slide, the sound of their skis a smooth “shussing.” I just know that if I turn down this slope I’m going to simply fall off of the mountain all together.

Michael has been tracking me from below, keeping parallel. I stop to catch my breath as he yells up, “Turn now! You don’t want to go further towards the rocks over there!”

Nothing looks safe for a turn. It doesn’t seem possible. “Turn now!” Michael calls again. “Just turn.”

“Hi, MC!” Twelve-year-old Eric, whom I’ve known since his birth, has come to an elaborate stop just below me. He’s smiling with joy. His face red with cold, eyes gleaming. “Are you a little stuck?”

“Yes, Eric, I am,” I pant. I hope my smile looks natural, but it’s completely fake. “Just a little.”

“Turn now!” Eric says helpfully. “You can do it! Just turn now.” And he’s off, dancing his own path down International. He and Michael wave to each other, and then Eric’s gone, taking a jump and disappearing over the other side.

***

Encourage vt… 1a: to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope : HEARTEN… b: to attempt to persuade : URGE… 2: to spur on…

***

Michael’s looking at the horizon again. Patiently waiting as other skiers go by. I turn downhill.

And fall. Get up, find the pole. Turn. Fall. Get up. Breathe. And turn and fall, losing a ski. Sit, breathe, brace myself, get the ski on. Turn. Fall. Turn. Fall. Turn. Fall. Gradually, though I never stop sweating, panting, laboring, my falls are less frequent. I can make two or three linked turns in a row, then four, until I finally reach the relative ease of Lower International.

It takes me almost an hour to get down Upper International. At every frustrating moment, once I recover my breath and look for the next turn, I can look below and see Michael, steadfast. Always just a bump or two below, leading me with invisible bread crumbs, tossing back the occasional, “Look how far you’ve come!” or “You’re doing great.” But mostly he’s silent, letting me battle my way down. He knows I can do it; he’s not worried.

We go through it together, yet alone. The quiet force of gravity—and of something else–holding me to the fall line as I work my way down.

***

Faith n. …complete trust 3: something that is believed esp. with strong conviction…without question.

(*This essay first appeared in the January 2012 issue of the online magazine This Great Society. Thanks to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed and Wikipedia for life-informing definitions.)

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized