Despite having the famous Pink Floyd song “Learning to Fly” stuck in my head for the past couple of days, this essay has nothing to do with rock music or drugs. It’s about my current focus in life.
I have skied more in the past three months than the past twenty years combined. That is not saying much considering I took nearly two decades off from the casual sport. I lost count after 30 trips. Today, March 21, marks my last ski day for the 2020-2021 season. I am at Snowshoe, WV, taking a break.
My hiatus from skiing happened while working on graduate degrees, working, raising a family and taking care of a special needs daughter. We buried her nine months ago, at the tender age of 18. The entire process has been devastating. I loved her more than I loved myself. I would have traded places with her had that been an option. I was not only her caregiver at home, but we became friends. She was a fabulous fiddle player. She loved nature. She loved people. Her medical condition was incurable. At times, it seems that my grief is as well.
Along with my wife and son, I hiked all summer and fall. I don’t mean to imply one giant thru hike. But we got out in the woods as much as possible. When the weather began to decline, I decided that it might be time to take up skiing again. My son and wife were more than willing to join me. They agreed that we could not face a long cold and dark winter without having some sort of exciting activity.
If you have ever skied enough to get at least reasonably good, you might relate to this experience-- gliding on the snow on a moderately, well-groomed powdery slope with speed and little effort. This happened to me earlier this season while night skiing at Snowshoe’s Silvercreek area. After a night of meandering blue runs and a couple of challenging black diamonds, I worked my way back to the parking area on a really long green trail. It had been snowing all evening, so the trails were blanketed with fresh powder. About half way down I raised my hands to the side with my poles and just “flew” for about 500 yards. I was gliding effortlessly and felt at one with everything. For those moments, I found peace.
I dream about flying. It is the only truly supernatural dream that I can remember having repeatedly. I am not flying around in a cape fighting supervillains. It is more like floating around with the ability to guide my flight as if swimming through the air. I am usually flying over familiar territory, although the exact location of this dream changes each time I have it. However, the feeling is always the same—one of tranquility. I am at peace; there is no fear.
Apparently dreams of flying are one of the most common dream themes. It is more common for men than women to dream about flying, but of course, this is a generalization. Dream experts say that flying dreams represent freedom or a release from high pressure situations in life.
I suppose that is what skiing has done for me this season. There really are no adequate words to describe grieving the loss of a young adult child. I have learned that intense grief is connected with anxiety and stress. I have also felt the stress of those grieving around me. I want to comfort my wife. I want to cherish time with my fifteen-year-old son. I know what I want to do with the rest of my life; I know now more than ever that LIFE IS SHORT. I want to fly.
I want to fly. I want to experience peace and freedom in my soul, even while dealing with the stress of life. I want to help others who are grieving. I want to help them learn to fly. For me, my faith is an integral part of “flying.” I believe in God. I believe that our desire to fly hints at a reality beyond this world. We were made for more than the stress of surviving, grieving, and chasing happiness that becomes ever more fleeting with every trip around the sun. I think that once our spirits are released from these bodies, we may experience unhindered flight.
One does not need to ski or dream in order to fly. I had similar feelings while hiking. I suppose any enjoyable activity has the potential to help our clouded minds and troubled spirits find peace. Religious experiences can definitely help. In fact, for me skiing and hiking have become religious experiences. Perhaps the Apostle Paul had this in mind when he wrote, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Even everyday activities can have a religious element to it. The great mystics of the past understood this well.
The pursuit of peace is one that transcends any particular culture or religion. For me, it is not only a part of my faith in an abstract sense. It is part of what drives me. Perhaps it is simply a practice run for what is next. I am learning to fly.