Gazing down at my banana-yellow downhill skis, I see that—about a foot from their upturned tips—they are hopelessly crossed over one another. Hanging from leather straps around my wrists, my ski poles twist in confusion around me, adding to my cold entanglement.
The bottom of the ski hill is a busy place. I stand frozen, pigeon-toed and strapped into the dead weight of my heavy skis. These are old-school downhill skis, and there are no quick-release binders. There is no quick fix to my situation.
Working to lift my right leg off the ground to maneuver my right ski off of the top of my left ski, I feel the almost impossible heft of the wooden ski pulling on every muscle, ligament and tendon in my pint-size hip, leg and foot.
Hoping to rectify the situation more quickly, I glance up toward my father, who has gone out of his way in his attempt to share his love of downhill skiing with me, having borrowed a pair of skis for my use during some informal instruction.
In place of the humorous, often patient twinkle that I am used to seeing in his eyes, I see a look of undisguised disgust at my predicament. The look cuts into my five-year-old heart. I am an inept disappointment. Somehow, I have messed up. I do not recall how we moved forward from that point. But, we must have. I do not remember ever trying downhill skiing again.
Years later, at fifteen, while rummaging through the family cedar chest, where we kept the specialty woolen wear “too good” to use, I stumble upon an exquisitely handknit wool sweater—a ski sweater.
The sweater is wrapped carefully in pristine tissue paper. Pulling the sweater out, I notice its unusually soft suppleness. The sweater’s body is knit in a realtively loose manner in a natural off-white yarn. The neck and shoulders feature a beautiful, understated Nordic pattern in a muted light-brown yarn.
Turning the sweater over in my hands, I wonder, “Where did this come from?” It looks to be my size.
After a very careful line of questioning, I learn that my father purchased this sweater as a gift for my mother, while they were still dating, in the hopes that they might go skiing together. My mother is deathly allergic to wool and, as a hot-cocoa-fireplace-with-a-good-book type, I imagine she proved as inept on the slopes at the age of twenty, as I did at five.
Parents. Partners. Children. Family. As “family” we are bound together by choice, blood and love. Sometimes family members share overlapping interests, talents or skills, and sometimes we do not. Even amidst the most tightly knit, active and lovingly respectful members of a family, a single soul can experience a tremendous sense of loneliness—especially when that individual soul is unable to share with those closest the activities or interests which make that unique Spirit come alive.
I try to imagine the dispiriting loneliness my father must have felt as a young suitor, wanting to share an activity he loved, one that made him feel more alive, with the primary someone he cared about most. Suddenly, the scene from my own five-year-old’s attempt at downhill skiing comes into a state of profoundly heightened focus. My father’s look of disgust was the emotional mask he was wearing over his own Spirit’s profound grief.