“It’s happening!” I heard my brain say to my left leg as it lifted from the slush and jolted painfully, pulling me up and then down.
There was a loud crack and a solid thwack as my back met the iced-over ski slope. I don’t know if my turquoise helmet hit first, or my shoulder, but I was dazed.
I’d caught an edge and ate it. Hard.
I stared up at the blue sky for a moment or two.
I knew I had to sit up. Wincing, I raised my upper body to vertical.
“Skis still on?” I asked myself. Yes, the bindings did their job.
Poles were close by.
I tried to breath deeply and a kind woman stopped and asked if I wanted help standing.
“Yes please,” I said as I tried to make eye contact. “It’s been years since I’ve fallen on skis.”
I haven’t fallen because I haven’t been on skis in years. I haven’t fallen because I’m cautious. I take calculated risks. May I be one with the slope, not one laying on the slope.
As the stranger reached for my arm, she reminded me to turn my skis parallel from where I sat, rather than pointing my tips straight down the hill. If I could lean my body weight into the mountain, I could stand again.
I had to push into the very thing that hurt me.
I stood and eventually swooshed the two hundred yards to where Dylan was waiting for me.
“I hit my head.” I said, “Hard.”
My ski afternoon came to an end after a medical check from Ski Patrol and a gondola ride back down to base.
As the incident replays in my brain this week, I’ve been wondering what it means to be brave. We tell ourselves to muster up the courage and to push ourselves out of our comfort zones. Being brave can be an active choice, yes, but what about when we are attempting to enjoy life and plans go otherwise? When our instincts kick in and the hard things require actions we feel we must do – not the ones we are brave enough to do?
This weekend, I didn’t cry when I fell. I said yes to help from a stranger, asked Dylan for water, and thought it would be smart to get more medical help. I chose the safe route down the hill rather than pushing myself to move on two sticks of waxed wood. I wobbled in ski boots and found my mom who was waiting and sat quietly in the car, imagining all the things that could have gone wrong. I didn’t feel brave.
Grief looks very much the same.
I didn’t feel brave when I wrote my dad’s obituary or called the organization in charge of his pension. I wasn’t brave when we spread his ashes or gave away his golf clubs, or each week when I choose to share my experience here. I wasn’t being brave.
I was surviving.
Are they the same, beautiful thing?
Life gives us edges to catch, limbs to flail, and places to fall. We’re lucky if we remember to wear our helmets and rely upon the little, beautiful buffers to help us feel a smidge safer in a scary world. We spread out, stunned, staring at the sky, trying to catch our breath as people swish by. And we remind ourselves to sit up again.
In order to do so, you must lean into the mountain. The majestic destination, the reason we are there out under big blue skies seeking solace and cold crisp air.
Lean into mysterious source of the beauty, of pines, jagged rocks, crisp, hard, sometimes powdery snow, and possible pain.
What a beautiful thing.