Monday, February 28, 2011

They Come With Instructions

One of my monkeys fell apart on the chairlift over the weekend.

Perhaps it was the challenge of taking a second run on the bigger chair, exploring new trails as a group that she had only done previously with her family. It might have been because she had had two negative experiences on a similar double chair the weekend before. Possibly, she was just plain tired already and not up for another run before lunch.

My job is to figure it out, or at the very least, to help her feel better.

Letting her cry on without trying too hard to filter or control her tears, she finally reached a place of deeper truth.

“My dad is going away,” she wept in a voice so shrill it sounded almost as a single tear dripping down a blackboard, “He has to work so hard so we aren’t poor, and the last time he went away he came back with a diamond on a necklace for me from a store named Tifferies or something.”

My first instinct was to poo-poo this fear as completely unjust compared to plights of most of the rest of us in this world, but remaining quiet and sympathetic to her pain, it was a good lesson to me that no matter the degree, fear is fear and equally terrifying to us all.

The real loss for her was time with her Daddy, at six years old inconsolable by the argument that more time will come later. At fifty-six, one has learned the preciousness of such time even more, understanding the reality and finality of death and wanting to reach out to his parent or child as well.

With this job come so many opportunities to teach more than skiing. In the lodge, of course, there are lessons of manners, sharing and cleaning up. We monitor our bodies to save an extra trip off the slopes. With helmets off and no fighting the wind, we tell stories of teachers at school and summer homes at the Cape. In Sawyer and I, they see a father and son who love each other and make work like play together (although it took them awhile to believe the relationship since he is taller than me).

On the mountainside, in addition to the emphasis on safety and skills, life is evident for them to see. Despite their insatiable need to keep moving, pushing off impatiently just as I catch up, I try to get them to stop a few times each morning to look around at the cold and peaceful vista spread out below them, to look up at the sky of brilliant blue or fast-rushing clouds of fury whipped by the winter winds. As snow falls, there is a quiet so soft, we should all pause to notice.

This weekend, there was enough snow for them to ski deeper into the woods. Rather than turn between, in and around the trees, I wanted them to focus on the empty spaces of soft white racing towards them, a shift of Escherian proportions where the openings become all and blockages disappear. The metaphor settled on them as silently as the puffs of deep powder pushed out of their tracks.

On the lift one day, one wondered what it might feel like to die, her eyes not frightened, but bright with curiosity. I told her of my friend’s grandfather, Charles Lindbergh, a great adventurer whose last words were about the awe of heading towards a new adventure, then shared my own experience of the sense of peace I felt in my fall from the scaffold, clearly figuring out I had already died before hitting the asphalt brought me rudely back to consciousness.

Mostly, I love the lessons they are teaching me. Anger at the injustice of disproportionate sharing of French fries can be dissolved in an instant with marshmallows. Tears of pain can be transformed just as quickly into laughter by a tickling poke in the ribs and a few taps on the helmet. The sky is always blue, no matter how grey, and hugs are worth far more than dollar bills, even if they do buy chocolate bars.

Although diamonds might be a girl’s best friend, nothing compares to a daddy’s love and the idea of his absence is a very scary thing indeed.

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