St. Andrew’s Jim Dennis was sorting through some files recently and came across an article he’d written several years ago. It’s a beautiful piece on persistence and resiliency. Thank you, Jim!
After my wife died I continued to work for a couple of months. I had a project that was almost finished but more than that I needed the fellowship, sympathy and understanding of my associates. In two months I reached retirement age and I found myself home alone. I had time then to really miss my companion and my companions. I felt alone, useless and depressed. In that case, it is best to do something you enjoy. I have always enjoyed skiing so I packed up my skis and went to Wintergreen, a nearby ski hill at the time. On this day, there were lots of children who seemed to have bonded into threes and I was frequently riding the lift alone. Skiing was not helping.
On one of my arrivals at the hilltop, the lift operator came out of her little building. She pointed out someone lying on the hill who had been there for over five minutes. She asked if I would check on the person. So I skied down to investigate.
It was a small boy, about grade one or two, sobbing as if he had just lost all hope. I was aware that children are taught not to speak to strangers and especially men. I looked around for someone not in this category to take over. Just then there wasn’t another person in sight.
I had to ask him some questions. “Are you hurt?”
“Oh! Are you all right?”
“No!” Over the space of the next few minutes, he told me between sobs that: he was lost and didn’t know how to get back to the lodge; He had come with his class on a school bus and he was late and they were going to leave without him; the hill was too steep and he couldn’t ski that well; his skis were rented and he would be late taking them back and they would want more money and he didn’t have any; He didn’t like skiing anyway and he just wanted to go home to his Mommy.
I told him that I would show him an easy way back to the lodge and if necessary pay for his skis. I asked him where he lived. He said, “I don’t know how to get there and it’s a long way from here.” I asked if he knew his phone number. He said a phone number much to fast for me to catch it. But I told him that if the bus had left, we would call his mother for directions and I would take him home. He didn’t believe there was an easy enough way for him to ski. I had to reassure him that I knew the way and I would stay with him as long as he needed me. Finally, I inspired enough confidence to get him on his feet and we started skiing down the hill.
He was still snow ploughing but doing it very well. I know what a thrill it is for a beginner to graduate from the snow plough to the next stage so I suggested that and showed him how.
He asked, “Are you the instructor?” I didn’t want to say, “yes,” which would have been a lie and saying “no” would have destroyed my credibility. So I decided that instead of answering the question, I would say something that was true. I said, “I have taught a lot of people to ski.” That satisfied both of us.
I showed him how to make turns with his feet together and then how to control them with edges and shifting weight. To my surprise, he was a fast learner and was not hampered by fear of falling the way adults are. This soggy mass of protoplasm that I had to coax to his feet was actually a fast learner. We were starting to enjoy each other and have fun.
Too soon we got to a spot about 100 metres above the lodge and I stopped to look at the people below. There was a tall person as well as about 20 others the same size as my new friend, all looking up the hill.
We heard a shout: “There’s Matthew!” I asked, “Are you OK now?” He nodded, “Yes.” And I said, “Fine. Bye!”
About a dozen of the classmates were running up the hill toward us. They were yelling things like, ‘where have you been, Matthew?” “The Teachers has been looking for you.” “You’re in big trouble now, Matthew,”
But Matthew, (I knew his name now) just stood there until the runners were almost up to him. Then he pushed off and left them to run back down, far behind him. He started the final turn well out and with complete control, slid to a stop right in front of the teacher. He was using everything that I had been able to teach him. I really had to laugh.
The teacher was probably upset with him but she had read the tear stains very well. So she put his arm around him and started to lead him off to the lodge to turn in his rented skis. When I went by her on my way back to the lift line up, she simply said, “Thanks.”
I am thankful for the pleasure Matthew gave me. Without him, I wouldn’t have met the lift operator who was aware and really cared about the people on her hill. Nor a teacher who was able to grasp the whole situation and act so appropriately. I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of teaching such an apt student. But most of all, I am grateful to Matthew for letting me share his passage from despair to triumph. He was in the right place at the right time for me. I went home that day with a smile on my lips, a chuckle in my throat and thankfulness in my heart.
I suppose I also gave Matthew something for which to be thankful.