But, our first season in the cabin, Mark presented me with a request. He hoped that skiing could be an outdoor activity that we could do as a family.
He wanted me to learn to ski. And he had already scoped out a program, Women’s Midweek Clinic. He was asking me to take Wednesdays off, drive to Girdwood, ski with an instructor and a group of women at my ski level (beginner) for 2 ½ hours and then partake in a lavish luncheon at the resort hotel. Very posh.
I didn’t want to do it. Several years before, I had let Mark convince me to get off the green runs (there’s essentially only two of them) and go up the mountain to try blue or intermediate runs. (There’s no other way down except “blues”.) I cannot tell you how terrified I was up there. I was convinced that I was going to die. Really. Highly unpleasant. When I got down, I hung up my skis (well, I turned in my rentals) and that was that.
But now, Mark said, “I am asking you to try this. It’s just four weeks. And if you hate it, I will never bring it up again.” Hmmm…sounded fair enough. I was back to imagining the fire and the book when the lessons didn’t work out.
Our instructor was a 23 year old guy who had been skiing since he was three. Skiing was as natural to him as walking. He was a good enough teacher but he just couldn’t quite understand our fear. We did our few runs down the easy green trail and then he was ready to get us on the blues. (Because really, if you can’t ski blues at Mt. Alyeska, there’s almost nothing else to do.) He was attempting to teach and coax seven or eight trembling women down a short (and icy!) intermediate run.
He said, “Just do this.” He lifted his arms parallel to the ground, his poles dangling from his arms, pointed his skis down that slope , and let go. His skis carried him down ten or fifteen feet at which point he made the tiniest little adjustment to the angle of his body allowing his skis to turn and carry him across the mountain in an arc as graceful as any ballet dancer. Effortless. Beautiful.
Something inside me shifted, ached, broke open. I longed for that ease, that grace and that fearlessness. I am sure you see the spiritual corollary here and my heart felt it immediately.
I would love to end this part of my story by telling you that I lifted my arms and glided down that slope as beautifully as he did. Nope. No way. I inched down, forcing my skis into a wedge, sliding down the icy incline, falling a couple of times and near tears. But then, I got back on the lift and tried again. And kept trying again.
By the end of my four weeks, I had been down many blue runs, mostly terrified and sometimes still near tears, but also in equal measure, exhilarated. It wasn’t quite “fun” yet and it was still a constant challenge for me, but I was in. I was a skier. A very bad skier, true, but getting down the mountain none the less.
Sometimes I still feel like a very bad pilgrim on the spiritual journey. I feel like I should be further down the road or have more figured out. But, I’m in. I am a pilgrim and I will be until the day that I die. There’s no turning back. I can’t help but respond to the constant drawing of the loving spirit of God, calling me to the next possibility or the next slippery slope. Sometimes it’s terrifying, sometimes it’s effortless. There are still some tears. But, oh, what an awesome ride it’s been and will be.
**I probably don't have to tell you, but, that's not me in the picture.