Life delivers hard experiences.
It can be wrought with pain and grief and confusion. I don’t know why people hurt each other. And I don’t know how to prevent more and future pain. I’m not really sure that that sort of thing can be prevented at all. And yet, today everyone is an expert. Everyone is a legislator, a psychiatrist, a doctor. Politicians are telling us that “something must be done”, and we all nod our heads solemnly and agree that “something must be done.”
But what? Nobody knows.
And the cycle of questions and pain continues.
Hiking (or riding a bike) in the mountains probably won’t prevent someone from doing something terrible. But it can help us cope with the harsh realities of death and sadness. The Newtown, Connecticut shooting effected people that I care about. Close friends. Friends that were already mourning the loss of a loved one. Stacking the unthinkable upon the already existing grief has been a cruel trick of fate and chance. I’ve struggled to offer any condolences that mean anything. So, instead we did the only thing we knew how: we gathered together, and hiked through the snow.
On the afternoon of September 11, 2001 I sought the company of my friends, and we rode our mountain bikes. On the trail, and up in mountains, there were no CNN or Fox News broadcasts. We didn’t have to see the (still) shocking video footage of planes crashing into buildings. We didn’t have to hear about more death and more destruction. For a few hours we were able to escape the punditry and the horror. Of course, our hearts were troubled. We knew what had happened. But we also knew that we needed to cling to something familiar, and to be with people we loved.
In good times and bad, all we really have is each other. Our families. Our friends.
After that bike ride in September, we all felt a little better. And after hiking and skiing through the snow on Monday, I think we all felt the same way: better.
Backcountry skiing isn’t like mountain biking. It isn’t like hiking. And it isn’t like resort skiing. Backcountry ski partners have to trust and rely on each other more than any other sport I have ever done. Our lives depend on each other, and on the partnership (or group) making good choices. In the event of an avalanche burial, or other accident, it’s our friends that will have to save us. Having good partners is vital. There’s an obvious metaphor and parable in that. But Monday, the metaphor felt a lot more literal. We needed each other. We needed the distraction. We needed to lean on one another, and more importantly, our friend, needed to lean on us.
Bicycling columnist Selene Yeager, didn’t feel much like racing and celebrating Friday. She wrote, “[p]laying on bikes and racing and partying all seemed trivial, even disrespectful, in light of the horror that had just rained down on so many.” Indeed, everything felt trivial on Friday. The other news of the day that had been so important just a few hours earlier—stock prices, politics, game scores—instantly became banal and crass. The speed that the news of the Newtown shooting devolved into punditry and politicking only added to the heavy sense of loss and sadness. I spent most of the day feeling gloomy, depressed, and having a hard time watching my own kids play and laugh, oblivious to the events in Newtown. But then Selene “had another thought. We need each other right now.“
She wasn’t alone in that revelation. As each of us retreated into our inner-circles of friends and family over the weekend, we were reminded that in spite of the terrible realities of mortality, that there is no crisis, no tragedy, and no nightmare that we cannot overcome together. Together as family, friends, and as a community.
“We sometimes jokingly refer to our little cycling community as the Land of Misfit Toys…” Selene concluded, “…a place where so many people who are a little on the fringe can feel welcome and wanted…. Where it doesn’t matter what your politics are or if you’re socially awkward or maybe a little (or a lot) eccentric. You belong. You have a community that cares for you.”
Sometimes tragedies hurt an entire nation. But mostly, tragedy is personal, often unknown to even friends or family. But no matter what each of us might be feeling or fighting, know this: we need you. I always feel better after riding my bike, or hiking through snow, with my friends. My heart is lifted, and any darkness or despair is lit away with light and hope. And for that, I am thankful to call myself a skier and a cyclist. It isn’t the skiing, or the cycling (as good as they are on their own) that sparks that gratitude. It’s the people.
I have good friends. I have good ski partners.
I don’t know how to end evil, except by being good. My friends remind me of that every day.