Any religion, when taken out of context and witnessed by a nonbeliever, can look absurd.
As we skied-toured up to the group of what looked to be tourists on snowshoes, my mate whispered, "You're not going to start praying and lap the pole are you?"
I barely had time to respond. "I'll try to wait until they're gone, but sometimes I just can't help myself," I said.
The snowshoers began bombarding us with questions. "Where are we?" "How'd we get here?" "What's the easiest way back to our car?"
The first question was the only one we could answer. We knew where they were. They were at Skippy's memorial pole. But since we had no idea where they began, we couldn't tell them how they got there or how to get back.
They looked to be tired and worried. All were overdressed and sweating profusely. One carried a huge plastic soda bottle full of some orange liquid; another had a small dog stuffed into the front of her jacket. The dog's head stuck out between what appeared to be, even under a down jacket, ample bosoms. The pet looked to be the only one enjoying itself. My mate asked the necessary questions to determine where they parked and the quickest way back to their vehicle. All the while I could not keep my eyes off the pole.
Turns out they took a circuitous two-hour route to get to that spot, which they could have reached in about 30 minutes from their car. The good news was that their return trip would be both short and mostly downhill.
Their relief was palpable and as they passed around the soda bottle in celebration, Ellen whispered again, "Please wait until they leave; they are freaked out as it is."
I have a bit of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). Once I get something in my mind I can't mentally rest until I can check it off the cerebral list. I've gotten out of bed to turn down the heat (three times in one evening). I've leaped off the couch to put my sunglasses, sitting on my desk, back in their case. Heading off on a road trip, we often turn around a few blocks from our house to check if I left a burner on or the refrigerator door open.
To speak in the parlance of my Boston upbringing, "Sometimes I can be wicked mental." It is for that reason I can never pass Skippy's pole without lapping it - loudly - three times.
Skippy, whose real name was Chris, died more than 10 years ago after being hit by a car while riding his bicycle. I have written about him, glowingly, over the years. Death makes heroes of us all. We all can count on our obituaries to focus on our good points. Seldom will you read, "Jeffrey Bergeron died last week. He had the morals of a weasel in heat and was as ugly as a bucket of nose hairs."
Skippy's obit was full of testaments to his kindness, generosity and character. In his case, it was all true. Shortly after he passed, many who knew and loved him hiked up to a nearby backcountry knoll, where a simple pole had been placed in the ground. During that memorial, someone mentioned that a tribal tradition to honor the dead was to take three laps around a monument, all the while yelling the name of the departed and sending out good thoughts and prayers. Try as I might, I cannot pass Skippy's pole (which I do several times a year) without yelling out his name while lapping it three times, whether alone or in the company of friends.
As luck would have it, once the snowshoers knew that the way home was short, they were in no hurry to leave. They passed around the pop bottle and released the little dog. (He seemed reluctant to leave the comfort of goose down and flesh.)
While Ellie was answering more questions, I inched my skis toward the pole, picking up speed as I approached. As a concession to decorum, I mumbled, rather than yelled, "Skippy, Skippy, Skippy," as I circled the post.
Halfway through my first lap, I heard Ellie apologizing for my compulsive behavior yet explaining my motivation. By the second lap she shared just a little bit about Chris' kindness. Just as I finished my third lap, the four visitors began their first. I decided to take three more. By the time we were all finished, I was near tears and the snowshoers were out of breath. After that, we all went our separate ways.
I can't say for sure if Chris heard our prayers that day - though, with all my heart, I hope he did. Because if that is the case, our friend is in a good place, a place of warmth, comfort and love. Call it rapture, nirvana, paradise. Some might call it bliss. For me it is heaven. That little dog might call it the inside of a down jacket ...
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on
TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff's book "Steep, Deep and Dyslexic" is available from local book stores or at BiffAmerica.net.