The rock was the size of a cantaloupe and was traveling at the speed of a big league fastball.
It was last spring; we were skiing in the Teton of Wyoming. Donny was using crampons to climb up a narrow icy chute. The missile came from high above. The rock was probably freed from the frozen snow by the sun which hit the upper chute first. By the time it reached us it was bouncing, off the ice-covered snow, at terminal velocity. It looked to be going wide but then caromed off the rock wall and came straight for Don’s head.
Those of us watching could do nothing but yell “ROCK.”
At the last second Don drove his ax into the ice and laid flat on the snow.
It was so close I wasn’t sure if he got nailed.
“Are you OK?” I yelled, “Were you hit?”
Don didn’t move for a few seconds then, without looking up, replied, “Does anyone have any toilet paper?”
The difference between Don being deader than a donut and what turned out to be a great day of backcountry skiing was about 2 inches.
I choose to believe that God does not take part in a human lottery. If that were the case there would be no children with cancer, Putin would keep his shirt on and Lee Harvey Oswald would have been on the airplane that killed Buddy Holly. But on the other hand, I can’t fathom a world where there is not Karmic recompense balancing the fact that disaster can strike the innocent while sparing losers like me.
Now granted, we can all cut the odds of a catastrophe by living well, driving cautiously and not using a hair dryer while taking a bath. But one look at the headlines is all it takes to alert you to the fact that bad things happen to both good and cautious people.
But as important as being careful is maintaining perspective and gratitude.
Though it was not that long ago, I’m not sure what my mate, Ellen, and I were arguing about; I’m guessing it was her fault. It might have been about household chores. Or perhaps over my insistence that she wears a chicken suit on our ‘date nights’ (she says the feathers are itchy) or her refusing to wait for me while skiing (you’d think that chicken suit would slow her down). Whatever the reason, we quarreled the night before and it spilled over to breakfast.
We sat in silence reading the paper and drinking our caffeine. I looked up and saw tears in her eyes.
The headline read, “Avalanche in Canada Buries Two.” The story spoke of those killed and those they left behind. In this case the headlines weren’t anonymous casualties; we knew one of them.
It took no imagination to put ourselves in the shoes of the victims. I hoped they hadn’t quarreled, or were too busy to tell each other how much they cared. I hoped they had taken the time to appreciate the chain of events that brought them to be together because it was that same roll of the dice which was now tearing them apart.
We have frighteningly little control over our fate and the fate of those we love. But what we do have is the ability and obligation to acknowledge our blessings and to celebrate the good things and incredible people in our lives. Or as my buddy Don said after admitting he didn’t need any Charmin, “Man! That would have left a mark, but it didn’t, so let’s have some fun.”
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.