It feels strange this morning to not be in ski gear headed to the mountain. Yesterday, a second sunny day after five had snowed five feet of luscious powder, conditions were glorious and today will likely be almost as good.
Every turn was silent with a puff of spray, a whoosh of delight and wonder that anything could feel so sweet. My pole jabbing in to help me come round continually sank up to the handle. Falls began in slow motion and melted into laughter, lying half-buried and in no hurry to begin the arduous task of digging back out to get upright.
Chairlift conversations were simple acknowledgments that rarely are days this fine, then wander into blissful silences, absorbing the sunshine and staring uphill in contemplation of the past or future turns. Passing one of my new instructor friends, there could simply be a nod, an “Unh-hunh, this is what we’re here for!” kind of grin.
In the middle of one of the toughest trails, near the end of the day, I paused, surrounded higher and lower by no one but the soft moguls who had also become my friends. My eyes rising to the forest stark green and silent, higher to the mountain peak frozen in thick white, higher still to the brilliant blue so deep and rich beyond belief, I pondered the wealth I have received this winter.
At an age when many groan, wince and complain, when parts fail and can be replaced, and hearts give out completely or cancer invades insidiously, my own body has rediscovered a rhthym it had known thirty years ago, refining it into a more graceful dance. Instead of limiting myself by thinking the sport is too expensive, I found a way to earn my pass to feed my passion, opening the door to a season of adventure.
What began as a tribulation, almost a sentence, rolling my eyes back with wonder that I as a rookie could be stuck with the youngest, weepiest, frightened and obstinate four year olds has turned into a blessing, a bond I cherish. These Skatter Monkies (as we call ourselves) are as tough, resilient and determined as they are playful and adorable. Their hugs and smiles are such sweet reward for this Skatter Brain (as they call me—more aptly than they could ever know!).
As so many already have the fortune to know and the wisdom to appreciate, by far the greatest thrill has been to witness the growth of my son. Just last year, he stood lower than my shoulder, contemplating his first field of moguls of any size, and now I follow his trail, face splattered by his powder, struggling to keep up. We teach together, equals in charge of our little monkies.
His constant commentaries and banter breaks out my laughter. Simple statements sometimes silence me by the power of their profound perspective. His heart open, his joy apparent, he flies past me on his way to better turns than I will ever know, our poles clicking together in the skiers’ toast.
For a long moment, I stood on that mogul yesterday, in the middle of that trail, countless more bumps to handle lying below me. In life, my trail is not so clearly laid out. No matter how much I love this skiing, it is not paying many bills. Health problems, tuition and braces payments loom largely. I have to recognize that my retirement plan will hopefully allow me to ski, not the other way around, and no matter how awesome the conditions, I will have to come in for a landing and find more stable employment.
I looked down the chairlift line and suddenly recognized that instead of counting how many people might take notice (I admit it), I actually was looking for a string of empty chairs to witness my next burst. With one more glance upwards at that brilliant blue against the alpine glow of the dawning sunset, in perfect peace and unspoken clarity of purpose, I finally pushed off.
Not for my skatter Monkies or other friends on the mountain, or strangers on the chair, not for my best buddy laid up in the hospital with a broken knee getting replaced, not for my son who opted out this day in exhaustion after so many great days, not for some future lover, or even for my mother who can no longer remember how she loved to watch me ski, these turns were purely for myself alone.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
It feels strange this morning to not be in ski gear headed to the mountain. Yesterday, a second sunny day after five had snowed five feet of luscious powder, conditions were glorious and today will likely be almost as good.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Just reaching the second half of the winter and I already have skied more this year than in all of the last twenty years combined. Today was the ninth in a row with a few more still to go.
Easily, I could be described as a delusional aging man in desperate search of some piece of youth, a lifeline of comfort against thoughts of impending seniority. Bones too brittle to safely slide down mountains, still I bounce through bumps as if my body could outlast time.
I have my redster, a car better suited to high school practices. My fingers caress guitars and voice fills the night as if I had no child to get to classes in the morning. In the spring, I will kick a soccer ball in serious play with buddies. Throwing caution a pittance of attention, I behave as if nothing maters but the truth of my convictions, and precious time is both infinite and running out.
I begin to write as if my life depends on it.
In the best of circumstances, we find the perfect balance between our passions and the ability to support ourselves, bettering the world (we hope) one breath at a time. Doing what we love provides the income we need and attracts the love that nourishes our relationships.
As we all know too well, this perfect combination of career and marriage does not always happen, and we fall into compromises. As cheerfully as we can, we make adjustments sometimes tiny, sometimes radical to find the balance that allows us to thrive.
The wonderful thing about a ski town is the boundless excitement everyone holds in common, particularly evident when fresh snow is as plentiful as we have this week. No matter race, politics, economics, or the force of one’s belief in a higher power, we are gathered here to enjoy the white stuff, fresh air, and the aches our bodies suffer to be able to make fresh turns.
We are one, united in common purpose. Rarely are we witness to impatience, selfishness, or greed. Sharing is abundant, politeness is bountiful, and companionship amongst strangers evident and heartfelt.
Given the uncertainty of my finances, the precariousness of family health, the frustration of a failed marriage, it is no wonder that this lifestyle might be so well embraced. What fool would not seek the open arms of such friendship?
The statistics by which we commonly measure ourselves can sometimes be askew from the balance in our hearts, just as much as the activities in a single week (or in this case: 11 days) may not always reflect accurately who we are in our lifetime.
There are those who visit the mountain for a vacation from their regular lives and there are some whose love of sliding on snow is strong enough to hold them here every day with varying degrees of economic success and compromise. Still others find the balance to be here every weekend as part-time employee, volunteer, or guest to pay their way onto the snow and down the slopes of joyful play between weeks of life as it is more regularly defined.
Immersed so deeply during this holiday period, it has been easy to lose myself into the lifestyle entirely. The long commute requires maintenance, more resumes should be submitted, friends lie in the hospital, pets need to be fed, but the weary ache of satisfied ecstasy at the end of the day overpowers other needs. Written words remain muddled in my mind, the guitars lie unplayed in their cases, fingers too tired. I eat what is handy and wear clothes from the dwindling pile of clean.
Bills go unpaid, their urgency muffled by the bliss, nearly buried under the ever deepening soft snow. I know there is little practicality to the dollars earned comparative to the time spent on the mountain, but the benefits of instructing make it not expensive either.
So I live this week reveling in the pleasure, cherishing time with my son, rationing my energy to be strong enough for the next day. The demands of life all too loudly knock to be long ignored. The compromises will have to be made. In this year of transition, my hope is that I have massaged my heart and exercised all muscles to make them more in tune with my authentic self.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s 18 inches of new snow overnight and I’ve got tracks to make.
Monday, February 16, 2009
If I were superstitious, I would head home, lock myself in a closet and cross fingers that a third event would be no charm. As it is, I am impressed how fast life can change between blinks and the beat of a heart.
On the highway in the dark of last night, I saw headlights half a mile ahead run askew where no road should be. It turns out a young driver had fallen asleep northbound, crossed the median (down a gully and back up the other side), crossed the southbound lane and landed largely unscathed halfway down the embankment. Terrified beyond words, she was lucky to be alive, though battered enough the emergency responders carefully transported her to an ambulance and whisked her to the hospital.
On the mountain today, lower down on a run-out that can be traversed at high speed, I stumbled on an edge and flew perilously close to a chairlift tower, my head (without helmet) careening mere inches from certain death, my sad story of rejuvenation nearly cut short in mid-sentence.
How fortunate we are to be able to ponder the wonder of this world and recognize the fragility of our existence in it. All too often we are swept up in the details and lose sight of the forest, dancing and dodging among the trees. In the day-to-day, we tend to forget just how precious is the gift of life until some sudden catastrophe threatens to snap it away.
As easily as a tragedy can devastate, hard work is required to create positive change. For so many years, I have bounced and bumbled from one hurdle to another hardship, creating life-altering difficulties with many decisions or non-action, but all the while raising a family, growing a life, educating a soul that could evaporate in a second with one twist of fate.
Yet some of us may know the spectacular moment of love-at-first-sight when you recognize instantly that your life has changed for the better if she (he) will only turn and look your way again. Or after nine months of labor, the tiny smeared head protrudes at long last to cries of wonder and joy, a new life beginning, and older lives forever changed.
Last night marked a significant moment when four relative strangers hugged with laughter in a driveway--half in disbelief, half in relief—acknowledging the reality of the commitment they had just made to play music together, taking it out into the world as far as their notes will carry. Naming ourselves “Cache”—a trove of varied treasures—we are focused on presenting our own original songs, three writers and a drummer singing about life and love.
With grown children and a sense of time running out, we have found each other partly through serendipity and mostly through our individual determination to sing out or bust. In a great leap of faith that still feels natural and comfortable, we have united with little auditioning, consummated our intentions with simple notes resounding, one-night trials embracing a giant “YES!”
Although the decision is made, unlike the crushed head that would have resulted had I actually collided with that tower this morning, irreversibly changing my life, this will take much effort, tenacity, and brilliant luck to really make a difference. At any time, one or all of us could back out and the band crumble, or metamorphose into a different version with other players. Much remains to be discovered and accomplished, but as of today Cache is poised and practicing, looking forward to performing perhaps in a venue near you.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Saturday night has been granted the official status as the night to be out and about, but on this particular one, I look forward to an evening of complete comfort ensconced alone in my cave. Busy with activities all week long in the outside, it is sweet reward at last to have no plans but the simple choices of my own, no place to go but to be by myself alone and content.
My mind abuzz with thoughts aplenty to write down, and fingers itching to play, I want no distractions. Home in spare moments this week, I have picked up and swept out, creating a semblance of order. The fridge has enough to satisfy the appetite. All duties for the moment are set aside.
Looking hard at both of my marriages, I can admit to trying unconsciously to fill a void in my life with the love of a good woman. Each for sure had many qualities to be adored, but I approached these relationships confidently, not realizing there was a very deep hole in my heart that no amount of outside passion could fill.
Not until we are comfortable with our own selves can we truly love and receive the love of another. Only when we have become our own best friend can we be a true friend to another.
This is difficult to understand when so much of our upbringing is focused on friends, family and companionship. Ideally, we see our parents as partners and lovers, providing a secure and stimulating home life, creating family. From an early age, I became very aware of the assumption that I would have and do the same.
So much about high school concerns the status of being coupled, or at least in the right group of friends. So easily we can feel left out. For very few being alone on a Saturday night is something comfortable, not a mark of failure.
Occasionally, I have felt this pleasure of being alone, but usually just short of utter contentment, it has been tinged with a sense of “making do”, or biding time and hoping I plan better next weekend.
Between marriages twenty years ago, I spent many months alone at night, Springsteen or the Dead blasting in the darkness as I jammed along, believing in bliss. I crossed the country fifteen times in eighteen months, creative with adventures, but hoping all along romance would strike me like lightening, almost as if I thought it could save me from myself.
So it was a year ago, living in a cacophony of creditors, relations and friends, that I finally recognized the need to hear my own voice. The silence as I renovated this apartment was at first deafening, over-whelmingly frightening. Doors were closing fast, important people felt abandoned; my questions grew more intense with every breath.
And equally, a calm breeze cooled my fears, a quiet breath of self-assurance re-asserted itself. Less defensive, less reactionary, my thoughts settled and ignited at the same time. As fear receded, imagination blossomed. I remembered the sense of awe and wonder, the pure joy, of a little boy who saw a mysterious and wonderful world in reach before him.
To the pain of some and bewilderment of others, and the encouragement and congratulations of still others, I have embraced the courage to leap into my dreams. Bringing along the best pieces of myself and welcoming any dear ones and new friends to join me, I go boldly forth into the future.
But I could do none of this if I did not first pause on a night such as this—no matter what night of the week—and get peaceful with myself as my own best friend and companion, content to be alone.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Reaching deep into the heart exposes blood and guts not always pretty to see. The truth of our flaws, frailties and vulnerabilities are as ugly as the gold, sparkle and glitter of our best parts are beautiful.
In this year of forthright introspection, I have been both praised and vilified for my willingness to stand so directly before so many eyes. Despite wonderful support, admiration and encouragement from so many readers, there are those who believe this effort is selfish, egotistical, narcissistic, and downright embarrassing.
I am the first to admit that courage and stupidity are close cousins, often standing hand in hand awaiting judgment depending on an outcome. A slim line separating them can just as easily entangle me in a confusing mess.
It is natural to want to keep our best foot forward and out of the mouth. We want people to like us, to think the best of us, to see and (most importantly) let us know that we are “alright”, certainly at least as good as the next guy. We all crave reassurance, and celebrating the best parts of ourselves should be a part of every day.
Conversely, there is the fear that if people discovered that we are not all perfect, sunshine and roses (like they would be surprised), we fear they would not like us. We would be condemned to live and die alone. For some, reputation is a commodity as precious as diamonds, coveted beyond reason and on display in only the best of lights.
To me, only by stumbling do we really learn how far behind our other foot actually lags. Usually, that distance turns out to be not so great as we fear and the rhythm is quickly regained. By not taking it too seriously, a good laugh at oneself is actually hearty nourishment for the soul.
Being open about our miss-steps, I learn, brings great comfort to discover that others march just as awkwardly. The simple truth is that very few of us are as exceptional as we believe our neighbors to be, including those very neighbors. This realization, once truly absorbed, offers a relief to our loneliness and quiet desperation, unites us to a common mediocrity that is actually quite satisfying.
The challenge sometimes lies in the way that our individual truths may ripple outwards towards those around us. My honesty can reveal more about others close to me than they are comfortable having exposed. In relationship, an action of one which might seem modest may cause embarrassment to the other. Mutual respect sometimes requires restraint. A balance can usually be reached.
I believe that one’s gold is not just the bright reflection on the surface, but a rich texture of all the best and the worst that congeals from deep within to form the nature of a person. To recognize, acknowledge and even celebrate that I am flawed, I stumble, I fall smack on my face, connects me better to myself and others. In as many ways as I reach for the hand that wants to pull me back on my feet, I extend my own to pull someone else out of their particular muck.
Life is rich with opportunity. Focusing only on the good stuff denies a significant portion of the true Self, veils the sunshine in a mysterious cloud. We all like a good story, and that requires conflict and resolution. A story only half told draws yawns and polite but indifferent attention.
We are a people fascinated by triumph and tragedy. We applaud the achievement proportionally to the adversity which is overcome, champion the spirit that perseveres over hardship. Equally, we might mourn a great fall, but without an attempt for redemption, our sympathy sours and eventually condemns the victim to their just desserts.
So long as one humbly recognizes the folly of their stumble and strives to tread more lightly, there are always helping hands.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Some days the challenges and struggles just seem too overwhelming to bear. The ache appears in many different guises, physically or emotionally. The neck screams, shoulders stoop. The clump of snow looks like the perfect target for a well-placed kick.
Sunday afternoon, I climbed the snowy hill out of the employees’ parking lot with amazing ease, my new snow tires on my Redster gripping as they should. Gears shifted to avoid the rumbly quirk to which I have grown accustomed, and I cruised home considering my solid footing on my life in transition and the recent ground gained.
No job lies on the horizon beyond an ocean of resumes, but flotsam drifts into place to keep a little money in the bank. A plan exists to get the basic bills paid. Words rush on to paper; the pages are sent out and returned with polite and encouraging notes. The key strokes continue to reward with satisfying comments. Musical notes open doors wider and a new song about a cool cat looms in the mist.
No sooner do I pat myself on the shoulder, however, then the car clunks with a sickening shudder and alarms scream in my head. After losing my truck to negligence and driving one mile too far, this time I pull over immediately to inspect the damage, but see nothing amiss. Back over 45 MPH, it is clear that something has worn dangerously thin. Too far from home to inconvenience someone for a lift and too expensive to tow, I limp along the back road next to the highway, gnashing my nerves and chilled with sweat.
Just as I warned my son I would be late to pick him up, the clunks and rattles became undeniable and suddenly the back end dropped with a crash. One wheel unperturbed spun along for 100 feet past me without looking back. In stunned silence, I stared into the darkening evening, too baffled to even wail.
At school, one can take a test and fail, clearly understanding the lack of answers to specific problems. In ski school, another can dismount and walk down, deciding the sport is just not what one should do. As I kicked and cursed my way along the snow bank towards a road house for warmth and a phone book, I was at a loss to even identify the questions.
Inside, a patron offered, “You get what you pay for”, hearing that I had just bought the car. My own perspective understood that the purchase had reduced my budget significantly in an attempt to live within my means. New tires were paid for instead of risking safety to “save” money. I have worked in these last years to reduce the stressful need for speed in my life, made conscious choices to live within calmer limits. I am doing The Work.
Likewise, I learned to ski a smoother, straighter line and translated that to the larger issue: deciding I could embrace a regular job with a steady pay check. Ironic that flooding the opportunities with my first resume in 30 years, it is lost in the sea of others looking for work.
Doors keep closing in the directions of my “shoulds” and open to my wants. I am invited to play music in ever wider circles as I broadcast my willingness. I have begun a similar blog for our local paper. Even with a long list of daily duties to perform, my heart rejoices and urges me to sit here at my desk and scribble late into the morning while thoughts are fresh and energy is high.
Sometimes we just have to stop wondering about the questions and move forward with what feels right, suspending the mind, ignoring the constant chatter, live with faith. Like skiing down a mountain, there comes a purity of motion. Still with turns rough and smooth, we come to the bottom, smile on our faces, choosing to ride up again or decide to head in for a little rest, warmth and a cup of hot chocolate. Whatever the heart decides, it usually knows best.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
By definition, a midlife crisis is a middle ground, a turning point balanced with half your life behind and half before. In truth, there is nothing symmetrical about it. A crisis, also by definition, is lopsided, ugly, uncomfortable and disorienting, often painful to suffer as well as to witness.
A midlife crisis is difficult to identify and easy to ascribe to someone’s behavior we might consider to be out of character. Immersed in our own dramas so deeply, it happens to people we know slightly, but is just Life as we know it to those immediately around us. Though it might be ignited by one or a series of particular events, it creeps upon us as warmth under a blanket, surrounding our bodies seductively until the shock of cold feet on the floor.
Death—the cruel jester and constant companion on our shoulder—whispers louder in our ears.
Amidst the turmoil and discomfort in my own life that was so consistent it felt normal, moving my parents out of the home that had been ours forever was the catalyst to ponder my past and futures. As my mother’s clarity of mind dissipated, my conception of the shape of my own life began to weaken, then gave way in a torrent.
Typically, in crisis events unfold with a speed too fast to contemplate alternatives and forge a plan. Reactions without thought recover the stumble or swerve away from the on-coming crash.
But in this, the changes are much more subtle. There is time to review the places we have been compared to where we wanted to go. Evaluation of our circumstances, our relationships, and our priorities takes on a certain urgency as we are confronted by the reality that--sooner than the way-later it used to be--this will all end.
Questions abound, quality is examined, quantity is determined, calculated and judged. The realization of our limits places a value on each aspect and we begin to understand that some dreams will be abandoned while others must be pursued.
For many, this might require only slight adjustments of routine, or a recommitment to finally take that trip. A thoughtful person has hopefully been aware of their movements all along to be aligned with their heart and comfortable with their decisions.
Others, confronted by reality of death’s whisper, discover a great mismatch in how they are living and the value of their dreams. Sometimes the lessons we were taught by others have rooted so deeply in our psyches as to smother completely the joyful desires that had once been our own. Influenced by the love of our parents, our significant others, and even our children, both blatantly and subtly, we have made choices for what is "Right", over-shadowing what we might have really wanted.
The degree to which we have followed more than led ourselves dictates the severity of the crisis. The amount of passion suppressed needing to escape the container defines the quality of the sigh or the force of the explosion.
Our purpose, I believe, is to become the best that we can be. No rules of engagement or packet of instructions are included at birth. We must fend for ourselves and rely mostly at first on those who have brought us into the world, fed, clothed us, and taught us how to live.
Along the way, we shed skins and experiment with outfits. We forge alliances and discover solitude both bitter and sweet.
Ultimately we are living our own life and are responsible to ourselves. Accountability to others is important, but critical to the success of our own lives. If we are not honest with ourselves, our challenges multiply, our hurdles loom larger in number and size until the one fine day we trip, stumble or fall heavily enough to ask the questions that have been avoided.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
In this year of separation, I have uncovered a tendency to throw myself at situations with heart and soul commitments which have turned out to be not always so healthy for my own individual life. Especially around the value of Family, having been raised to be unselfish, I drop anchor determined to withstand any storm.
Fresh out of college, exhilarated with talent and energized to break down any doors, from a mountaintop in Oregon, I surveyed the world before me: vast, broad, open and (for me) uncharted. That mountain, however, and my disposition, seduced me to stay with a woman recently widowed and her two children desperately in need of comfort and firewood.
These were problems I could fix, care I could give, an answer to Life’s questions I believed I was man enough to handle. We became an instant family and produced another wonderful child.
Once this had grown too difficult and greener pastures had torn us apart, I drifted across the country with plans and aspirations for great creative works. I carried with me also an undefined promise that I would find someone else to make me whole again.
Looking to the external to repair a pain deep within is no true solution, merely a band aide, a distraction.
Learning this now, eases the surprise that a second marriage would fail despite twenty years of effort to make it work no matter what. Not being true to my own self, I could not adequately support others.
A year ago, disoriented and uncertain, I separated to hear my own voice. It seems to resonate with words and song; something I knew intuitively as a child, experimented with in high school, refined in college, and abandoned as an adult overwhelmed by the practical needs of Family.
Sadly, one should be able to manage both, but I have not. Having made the commitment to live together, my priorities have been correct: food on the table should trump words on a page. The compromises necessary over so many years, however, have stunted the very flow of prosperity and abundance I sought to grow. While one piece of the internal damage was patched by marriage, another rupture flooded my organs with bile.
Now I have begun to heal. Embracing the man I want to be illuminates the suffocating darkness that has surrounded me, eases the chaos and turmoil. Not yet translated into prosperity, patience and determination of a more selfish nature still emboldens my steps. My blood thickens and flows more freely. Brave enough to face tough questions and push easy answers aside for deeper truths and meanings, a calm grows from within, noticed and welcomed by friends and family, supported by those who love me.
The Universe challenges me, however, ups the ante each time, testing my commitment with more and harder struggles to divert my attention. My truck becomes useless. The bad economy renders a job-search nearly futile. A daughter grows distant.
Now, my not-yet Ex has needs that draw me back compassionately, attracting attention impossible to ignore. Easily, I can be drawn in, to care for and nurture as I always have done before, to set aside the hard-won lessons of this past year for the higher purpose of comforting what ultimately has little comfort, trying to fix what is possibly unfixable.
When one has truly loved, the heart never fully relinquishes the flutter of that connection. Time passing may ease the extremes of adoration and bitterness the relationship has known, but the tender spot remains that was held for that one alone, preserved for eternity close to the heart.
My challenge is to find and immerse myself in the serenity of knowing what I can change and what is truly beyond me. I must learn to offer the care my family needs and deserves without sacrificing the authentic core of who I am and what makes me strong.
Abundance begins with the heart and flows outward, like a tidal wave, overwhelming all it encounters. We have the opportunity to change our world today, abandon the selfish greed of hording scarce commodities, and open our hearts to share the unique gifts of our joyous souls. One by one, together, we create with love a family that can move mountains and grow greener slopes right at our own doorsteps.