Okay, here we are, first week of 2015, and back to something approaching normalcy. Which in my case means being back at home, while my sweetie and the young men in my life (two sons, one nephew) have all returned to their regularly scheduled programming. Well, Mr. College Senior is still around, but since his dorm is a short walk from home, and since both his sleeping venues are pretty much equidistant from most of his January break activities, he comes and goes at will. And that works out just fine. So, yes, this first week of January finds us all back to something approaching our ordinary, everyday lives.
And now, a confession: Upon returning home, whether it be from a weekend up north or a fortnight of holiday traveling hither and yon, I always like to carve out time for some a little audio/visual catching up. Whatever I might have missed from The Daily Show or The Good Wife or Downton Abbey, whatever movie I meant to get to that’s about to disappear from the OnDemand stream, that’s my dirty little Monday re-entry habit.
But yesterday, on the first Monday back of the new year, two items competed for my online attention. The first was Boyhood, a film which has been getting lots of Oscar buzz, and which I missed out on, back when it was in theaters. The second was a string of tragic news updates, about two ski racers who died in an avalanche in Austria. Much as I wanted to look away from those reports, I simply couldn’t.
The young men were US Ski Team hopefuls. They were at TeamUSA’s training base in Soelden, and they were enjoying a free ski day. I’m guessing that the definition of “free skiing” might be lost on anyone outside the ski racing realm, so here’s a simple explanation: free skiing is what ski racers do for fun, when they’re not racing or training. Free skiing is pure delight. Often, the most memorable free skiing happens when there’s simply too much snow to train or race. Which is exactly what a bunch of joyful American ski racers were up to, on a snowy day in the alps.
I don’t know what happened, beyond the fact that a slide was triggered and two individuals were caught in it. I do know that they were world-class athletes–strong, gifted, and exceedingly talented. I know for certain they were doing what they love to do. Beyond that, I cannot account for how or why such horrific bad luck visited upon these young men.
I first learned from an Instagram post that a 19-year-old ski racer from Utah had lost his life, and that he was one of two who had died. I did a quick Google news search to find out who the other might be. A name popped up. My heart stopped.
The second young man was a young classmate of my older son. His father and mother ski raced with my beloved and me, back before we all became ski racing parents. His dad and I served together on our kids’ ski academy board of trustees. His son was recent graduate, a bright and rising star, hard working and well liked. He loved his sport, and he put his all into it. He delighted the people around him with his infectious humor, and with his genuine appreciation for the life he led. He was looking forward to forerunning the speed events at the World Championships in Colorado, next month.
It hit me hard, this tragic news. You don’t want it to happen to anyone, ever, for starters. Then you don’t want it to happen to someone you know, or someone your kids might know. When it does happen, and the name jumps off the screen at you, it knocks you for a loop. Like an avalanche, I suspect. It took my breath away.
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I ended up watching Boyhood in fits and starts over the course of last evening, and finished it up before breakfast this morning. For any of you who aren’t familiar with it, Boyhood is, to say the least, a work of extreme film making. The movie’s epic tale takes place over twelve years, and the scenes were shot over the same decade-plus time frame. Twelve years of scenes and dialogue, filmed in annual snatches. Twelve years of growing up and growing older, for the characters and actors alike. The movie is an homage to the inexorable passage of time, framed within a screenplay fiction.
While all the characters emerge older and wiser by the movie’s end, it was the young actor, Ellar Coltrane, who most mesmerizingly evolved before my eyes. Watching him morph from a sweet, red-cheeked grade school boy to a lanky, soulful college man, without older actors standing in for him as the story’s fictional time passes, was a source of fascination, all on its own. In truth, the act of observing Ellar, the actor, and Madison, his character, unfurling through their co-joined adolescence made me a little uncomfortable. It’s hard not to feel like a peeping Tom, hard to not be vividly reminded that the boy on the screen really is a year older now than he was, just one scene ago.
By Boyhood’s end, our hero has learned many lessons, recovered from aching losses and survived senseless trials. Thankfully, he’s also made it to a place where he just might thrive, just might finally make his own breakthroughs. Boyhood ends with this boy-turned-man at the brink of adulthood, with much to look forward to. As the credits roll, I couldn’t help but wonder: What next? Both for the character, and for the young man who so nobly played him?
And from there, I couldn’t help but wonder what happens next, for parents of the skiers who have vanished from this world, at such a similar juncture in their young lives. They raised their boys and launched young men, imbued with talents and hopes and dreams. I’m guessing both moms and both dads thought they’d made it through what has to be the hardest part–the adolescent, bad-judgement, peer-pressure-laden scary parenting phase. I imagine them wondering what might happen next for their talented sons, just two days ago, confident that their young men had so much more living to do. I suspect they must have been expecting that there would be much more to cheer for, in their sons’ lives.
It’s what we all do, after all. We raise our children from diapers to sippy cups to college apps and beyond. Then we stand by as they go out on their own, knowing that even if we wanted, our hands-on nurturing days are over. We presume their growing up was prologue, that what they will be, who they are turning into, is still very much to come. It’s almost impossible to imagine that it could end, so abruptly, so much too soon.
I probably would have gotten teary, watching Boyhood, whether I’d watched it today, or yesterday, or the even day before. But watching last night and early this morning, I couldn’t help but ache for the parents of those bright alpine stars, their lives ended just as they were so full of hope and expectations, so ready to discover the answer to the “What next?” question. My heart will long ache for those parents, those families.
As for my own twentysomething sons, I realize that I have been restricted to cheering from the sidelines for a number of years, and that I have to trust that my sons will blaze their own routes to meaningful lives. But after yesterday, I find myself carrying a little extra bit of extra hopefulness, something approaching prayerfulness, on my sons’ behalf. My fervent wish, to whoever or whatever might be running the show, is, simply, this: Please keep my sons safe from circumstances beyond anyone’s control, from perfect storms that veer to the tragic, and from rotten bad luck. Keep them safe, and let them live long enough to find out who they are meant to become. And please, never let me forget to savor the joy in the ordinary, everyday gift of the time I get to spend with them, with its promise, if not its guarantee, of more to come.