From fear to family
Fear is a crazy thing. If I let it, fear paralyzes me. It completely takes me down and holds me on the ground.
This past weekend, my husband, son and I ventured to the Canaan Valley area of West Virginia. It is one of the most beautiful places in the state, with its take-your-breath-away views at the top and its quaint streets and shops at the bottom.
Most years since 2003, Mike and I have gone to those hills for one thing – skiing. The sounds of the slopes captivate me. After our 2009 ski trip, I wrote this: “I love to hear the swish of my skis as I zigzag down and across the hills. When the snow is just right, it’s as if the skis whisper along the ground.” That is all still true.
Sometimes, though, after I ride the lift to the top, I have to remind myself why I enjoy skiing. On Saturday and Sunday, the wind and cold were brutal. As I stood at the crest of my favorite intermediate slope, I felt the wind slapping me, trying its best to disable me. I was scared. I didn’t think I could ski down the hill. The wind was too powerful, and the slope started to look too steep for me, even though I’d skied it dozens of times before.
I stood there, paralyzed by my fear. The wind and the cold continued their attack on me. I turned around and glanced at my husband behind me. He was waiting for me to start moving. I thought about my options. There were really only two – stay there and freeze to death or ski down to the bottom. I thought to myself, “What are you afraid of? Going too fast? Falling? Getting frostbite?” I was slightly concerned about the first two, but I realized that I was letting my fear control me.
Fighting against the wind that tried to keep me stationary, I started my descent. I was still scared at first, especially when I hit the occasional icy patch, but my only choice was to keep moving.
Mommy blogger Glennon Melton often writes about how the wordscared is so very similar to the word sacred – how if you can push through the scared, you will find the sacred. I always knew she was right, but this past weekend, I felt it in a new way.
As I was skiing down that slope, I remembered how scared I was at the top. I thought about how I could still be standing there, paralyzed by the wind. But instead I was zigzagging down that little slice of God’s creation, feeling overwhelmed by the majesty of it all. About a third of the way down the mountain, my fear dissolved. I looked up and marveled at the artistry of the hills – the lines and the curves, the light and the shadows, the colors and the haze. I heard the familiar swishing and whispering of my skis. I thought about how that experience was sacred for me because I pushed through the scared, and I looked at and felt all I would’ve missed if I had let scared win.
I got to see Elliot push through being scared, too. He started the weekend with a one-hour snowboarding lesson, during which he was “more interested in throwing snowballs,” according to the instructor. I was obviously less than thrilled with that report, so Mike suggested we teach Elliot how to ski. The rental store graciously agreed to let us swap out the snowboarding equipment for skis, boots and poles at no extra charge.
We started out on the bunny slope. I saw Elliot become scared, impatient, frustrated,
angry, sad and disappointed. We heaped praise upon him and encouraged him to keep trying. “Just keep getting up,” I repeated. There were tears, but eventually Elliot started to catch on, especially to the snowplow technique used to slow down and stop. Elliot whizzed past me, heading toward Mike. I skied behind him, yelling “Snowplow, Elliot!” Then, I heard him let out a “Woooooo!” He was doing it. He pushed through scared, and watching it was sacred to me.
As you can imagine, Mike and I have many memories from our ski trips over the years. While there have been lots of sacred moments on the slopes, something else has happened since 2003. In addition to my biological family members who go on the ski trip – Mike, now Elliot, my aunt Jodi and my uncle Richard – I have made a new family. I lovingly refer to them as my “ski family.” Some of them, like trip organizers Nick and Emily, are friends of my aunt and uncle, and others are friends of those friends, and so on.
I remember that first trip to Canaan in 2003. Mike and I knew Aunt Jo and Uncle Rich and had heard of some of the others. I was nervous to spend a weekend with a large group of people I didn’t know. Meeting and befriending people, especially in a group setting, is very difficult for me. OK, terrifying, actually. But Mike is the complete opposite of me in that way. He’s the outgoing, extroverted, I’ll-strike-up-a-conversation-with-anyone type. I tagged behind him as we introduced ourselves, as I awkwardly tried to let in all those strangers. I retreated to our bedroom frequently. In that environment, I needed my alone time. I was scared, but I pushed through it.
And now, those people are my ski family. Just like a biological family, I have watched them get engaged, get married, have children, accept new jobs, leave jobs and buy houses.
Then in summer 2011, the unimaginable happened. One of the ski family members – Nick and Emily’s son, Mikel – unexpectedly passed away as a result of a motorcycle accident. I attended the funeral, after which I heard some chatting about the ski trip. A couple members of the ski family even asked if we would be there. I wasn’t sure the trip would continue, but I said we planned to be there if we could. As it turns out, I got pregnant about a month later, so we didn’t make the trip that year. Everyone else did, though.
And every year when we return to Canaan, I think about the courageous decision Nick and Emily made to continue the tradition. I bet they were scared that winter of 2012, that first trip after Mikel was gone – to be in that house he had filled with laughter and to ski those slopes he had torn up with his snowboard. But they pushed through the scared. I can’t speak for them, but I know I have continued to experience the sacred because they said no to fear.
During the 2014 ski trip, I was fortunate to sit and talk, one on one, with most of my ski family members. Mikel’s name came up in many conversations, and I love that. Nick, in particular, was full of Mikel stories this year. I sat on the couch and listened to him reminisce, watching his hand gestures and reveling in the pride and love I saw.
The people, the memories, the stories, the slopes – they are all sacred to me. I am so glad I said no to fear in 2003. If I hadn’t pushed through, I would’ve missed so much. My ski family member Doug summed it up when he said, “It’s not just a ski trip anymore. It’s like a family reunion.”
Originally published on ovparent.com.