Sunday, February 13, 2011

I Can Do Brave Things

This may be difficult to believe, but I'm afraid of going downhill on skis.  I'm not afraid of the dark, hiking alone in bear country, complicated recipes in cookbooks, traveling alone in less developed countries, or singing and dancing in front of thousands of people.  But yesterday found me at the top of a steep downhill grade and my throat became dry, my legs stiff, and I began having serious conversations with myself.

"Rachel," I told myself, "there is nothing to be afraid of here.  You have gone down lots of hills like this and you aren't that bad at it."

"You're forgetting," I replied, "that little knee incident last winter that resulted in a long drive to the nearest medical facility for stitches.  And now that you mention it, that old running injury in your left foot is cramping up and really might cause some problems.  Besides, you know you're muscles are a bit tired so they are more likely to get injured if you fall."

"The only falling your doing now is falling further behind," the first voice noted.  "The others are out of sight.  There is no other way.  You climbed up the mountain just fine and to get home you have to go down.  You should have thought of that earlier.  So you better get down there because it's going to be embarrassing enough as it is to have everyone waiting for you."

So, screwing up my courage, I slid my skis over the edge.  

It wasn't always like this.  I used to gladly throw myself off of every incline while complaining loudly that the flat stuff was boring.  But then some little demon got inside of me and should my confidence.  First, a nasty spill trail running that got infected and oozed pus down my legs for a month or two, then a running injury that has kept me from pounding pavement for the past two years, some stitches from the first ski of the season last year, and a series of needles and injections in the left foot have changed my perspective.  For the first time, I am aware of my own mortality and I don't like it.  When my family went cross country skiing when I was growing up there was an infamous "Ridge Trail" that was sort of a right of passage.  It was a long, all-day affair with a big climb up a mountain and a long, treacherous descent.  I realized that the ski yesterday, that the current trail was of a similar nature.  I wanted to put off facing going downhill for another day.  But being brave isn't something one schedules--it's an immediate call to arms.  

I gulped as my skies pointed down and the world began to slant.  I snowplowed like there was no tomorrow, fell preemptively a few times, and tried to act natural when my companions (both of whom are women a decade or more my senior) were waiting at the bottom of the mountain with extra jackets on because they'd been there for awhile and were getting cold.  Once I got over the pure panic, I learned that I still can go downhill without hurting myself.  I can fall and at best get snowy and at worst get bruised.  I recognize that this is a small and silly triumph, but sometimes it feels good to do battle the small parts of ourselves.

"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear--not absence of fear.  Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave." -Mark Twain