Riding the memories we leave behind
December 22, 2005
I traveled 12 miles on a dead guy’s skis. The day was cold with no wind. My route wandered on narrow trails through a quiet forest past snow-laden trees. I hadn’t seen another human for more than an hour; the setting was perfect for communing with the dead. A little more than four years ago, my friend Chris was killed while road biking near Boulder. Since that time, memorials were held and posthumous honors bestowed on this truly remarkable man. But just as time heals all wounds, it also dilutes the remembrance of even a remarkable person. That said, I still often think of Chris. He was blessed with many graces not the least of which was an extraordinary, yet humble, athleticism. But the truth is my town is full of wonderful athletes – some worthy of admiration, some not. What made Chris truly extraordinary was his generosity and kindness. He was someone who had very little time or wealth, yet he was willing to give much of it away.
Was he a saint? No, just kinder than most of us. His skis were bestowed to me by his widowed girlfriend. As an antidote to the holiday stress, I hoped to make connection with Chris as I traveled on them. Every time I would bend over to double-pole, my head would bow and I’d be staring at his initials that he had written on the tips. Greg Brown was playing through the headphones of my iPod singing words that I wished I had written “What is real but compassion, as we move from birth to death?” Tears ran down my cheeks, mingled with nose secretions and froze. My face looked like an inedible glazed donut. Though it was less than two weeks before Christmas, the trail was empty and the woods were quiet. If Chris was going to make an appearance, now was the time. I wasn’t his best friend, there were those who knew him better, but I was quite certain that I was the only person who was gliding through the woods on a trail he loved while wearing his favorite skis. I planned on only skiing 10 kilometers (six miles), but when I was about to turn around, I felt something; I hoped it was a sign from Chris. I skied another five miles before I realized it was only gas pains. Some people have better luck then others when it comes to hanging out with the dead. Though I’ve tried desperately, I’ve never felt contact with any friend or family who has passed. That day on Chris’ skis was no exception.
That is not to say I didn’t try. While I silently slid through the woods, I thought of all our silly jokes – I called him Skippy and he called me Sparky. He had an Elmer Fudd hat which he wore backcountry skiing. It truly looked ridiculous and I delighted in mocking him for it. Despite my abuse, he insisted on wearing it – I think just to give me ammunition. I christened him “Gunter, the backcountry gigolo.” (You had to be there.) All those memories came to mind as I traveled through the forest of Skippy’s skis. But mostly, I thought of his gentleness and compassion he showed to virtually everyone. That day would have been a perfect time for him to make an appearance. If he had come to me as a disembodied voice or burning bush I wouldn’t have told anyone – unless of course he said it was OK – but no luck. Though I believe in God and ghosts, I have never seen one. I’m particularly mindful of that fact this time of year. Across the Christian and Judaic world, tradition dictates that we give of our time and money. Granted, many of our good deeds are the obligatory offerings of desperate gifts to those who have everything. But there is also much attention given to those with real needs. Bell-ringers, charities and social programs try to make a dent in the worldwide deficit between the “haves and have nots.” I would have discussed all this with Chris if he had gotten off his butt in heaven and visited me in the woods.
But maybe ghosts don’t make appearances to meat-and-potato types like me. If he had, I’m guessing he would have told me to try to be kind and generous, not only at Christmas, but all year. I’m hoping he would have said that death is nothing to fear, and that the worth of your life is judged by your acts of love. Who knows? Maybe he did say all that stuff, and I misinterpreted it for gas pains.Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of “Biff America” can be seen on RSN television, heard on KOA radio, and read in several mountain publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.