Friday, February 13, 2004

Skiing, Airplanes, and (drums) Life Itself. Carol and I went skiing for the first time over New Year's. Doug and Sue, Kellsey's parents, invited our entire family to their new town house near Beaver Creek in Colorado. And then Doug volunteered to teach Carol, Mary, and me how to ski. ("Greater love hath no skier . . . ). Carol and I were not apt students. Mary did very well. I have been thinking about what skiing is since then, and I have decided it is a metaphor.

Skiing is really falling down the mountain in a controlled way. I had the wrong attitude, because I kept wanting stability. Instead of falling down the mountain, I just fell over right at the start and got nowhere. You have to give yourself to the fall, but learn to control it, you need to keep falling in the direction you want to go, but see to it that the fall never quite gets finished until you are down the mountain. In the meanwhile, you are to have fun. I did not quite get the hang of this. But I recognize the problem now after thinking it over.

There has been a lot in the media about the Wright brothers in the past few months, given the centennial of their first flight at Kitty Hawk. According to one analysis of their success, the Wright brothers knew as others did not that a successful airplane had to be inherently unstable. Others had insisted on building a machine that would be stable, and that idea resulted in one failure after the other. The Wright brothers, probably because of their intimate knowledge of two wheeled bicycles, understood that their machine needed to be controlled but did not have to be, could not be, inherently stable. Their machine could fall through the air in a way that was successful. They had control surfaces to direct the movement. They gave themselves to the wind. They were heedless of the ground passing below them. They accepted the risk and dealt with it successfully. Going from point A to point B meant yielding to gravity and airflow enough to build momentum and lift, giving oneself to those natural forces (which took courage), but devising ways to control the progress (which took smarts). In the meanwhile, they had fun.

Aaaah. So it is with life. Here we are, hurtling toward death. As we move down the mountain, to be very, very careful, very, very conservative, to be absolutely sure things will come out right before doing anything, is deadly, deadly. To give yourself to where the end is pulling, to learn to control as you fall toward whatever is next, to have courage and to be smart (intellectually and morally), makes for blessings and makes life if not always fun finally meaningful (or at least interesting. Which reminds me of the Chinese curse: "May you have an interesting life". Which perhaps is why the Chinese have had so much trouble until recently, to think that an interesting life is a curse.)

So I thank Doug and Sue for a really important holiday in the Rockies. It was just great to see them and the family and to have so much to chew on as I look back on that visit. Here's a picture of the whole group (except for our much esteemed and beloved hosts, Doug and Sue, whose photos will be on a later post) at the foot of the mountain.

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