I Felt Very Small
I spent my day off this week at the ski hill ninety minutes or so west of town. I skied a decent amount growing up, but once our kids arrived and I decided to back to school, skiing wasn’t really much of an option any more. It’s not a cheap sport, obviously, and certainly beyond the reach of a student trying to juggle studies with work and a young family. I don’t think I skied more than a handful of times during the first decade or so of my kids’ life.
Since we moved back to Alberta from British Columbia a year and a half ago, the opportunities have appeared more regularly. It helps to have a dad who is a volunteer ski patrol at the hill (and who gets the odd free pass for his efforts!). Having kids who are a bit older—and who are nuts about skiing—also provides some incentive to get out to the mountains more frequently. It’s been fun to watch them grow in confidence and independence on the hill.
But this week, the kids weren’t there. They were in school. And skiing without kids is very different from skiing with them. One is no longer confined to the beginner and intermediate runs. At Castle Mountain, this means that you can go all the way to the top of the mountain—where the temperature plummets, the wind picks up, the view is spectacular, where the runs are steeper and longer, the snow deeper and more unpredictable, and the skiing is quite a bit more demanding. I was skiing with my dad and my uncle (both very good skiers) and, with the sole exception of the first run where I ejected from both of my skis and unceremoniously introduced my backside to a tree, it was a ton of fun chasing them around the double black runs all day.
On the last run of the day, I was on my own. My dad had to do a final patrol sweep of the mountain, so I ventured out from the top, looking for adventure, hoping that my weary muscles wouldn’t betray me before I reached the bottom. About a quarter of the way down, I looked off to my right and saw a huge swath of glorious untouched powder. I pointed my skis in that direction and was soon carving fresh tracks. It was incredible. About halfway down, I looked back up the mountain. The sun had just peeked out from behind the clouds and was bathing the side of the mountain in glorious light. I could trace my path all the way from the top to where I was standing. It was a truly spectacular scene—like something off a postcard or an advertisement. I looked around to see if anyone else was seeing what I was seeing, but there wasn’t a soul nearby. I was all alone, wide-eyed, trying to take it all in—the breathtaking silence, the magnificent light, the immensity of the mountain. Awesome.
I felt very small. And very grateful. Such beauty was and is utterly undeserved. I was a tiny little speck on the side of a mountain enveloped by this conflagration of light and snow and rock and trees and take-your-breath-away beauty. It was a scene that had no need of me. It would have been just as beautiful if I had been snoring on the couch at home. But I was there. I did see it. Incredible.
Of course, the next day it was back to work—back to emails and phone calls and meetings and articles to read and deadlines to meet, and preparations to make, kids to chauffeur around, etc. It’s remarkable how quickly the awe and gratitude of mountaintop grandeur give way to the more mundane emotions and reactions of every day life. It’s amazing how quickly basking in take-your-breath-away beauty can be substituted for just trying to catch your breath amidst the frantic pace of everyday life.
But there are everyday moments, too. This morning was a morning like any other. The to-do list was rapidly expanding even before I arrived in my office. I was a little preoccupied, a little distracted, trying to get everything that needed doing straight in my head. Just an ordinary day. And then, two conversations… an email, a phone call. Words of affirmation for the work I am doing, words of appreciation for this or that word or story or conversation. It’s truly incredible, the power of a few kind words. Just a few. Words of understanding, words of respect and mutuality, words that breathe life and energy and strength and hope into an ordinary day with ordinary demands. Unexpected words, unmerited words, words full of grace. Pure gifts.
And, again, I felt very small. Like standing on the mountain, wondering what right I had to such beauty, I wondered—how could there be such kindness in the world? And why should I get to receive it? Yes, I felt small. Small and very grateful.