It was the best ski day ever.
It definitely wasn’t the best day for my 3-year relationship, however. We were on a ski trip during his 11-year-old son’s spring break. My boyfriend had taken me along in spite of the fact that his son and I had a difficult time together. I was not used to children and all their demands. His son wasn’t used to the idea that I wasn’t his mom. It was a difficult time for all of us.
This doesn’t exactly sound like the set up for the “Best Ski Day Ever” does it? Well, it was, but not because of either of them. We had decided that we would ski separately that afternoon. I wasn’t happy about it and neither was he.
It was my first time at Copper Mountain. When I started out on my own, I didn’t know where I should ski that would fit my level of experience.
I was nervous because just a few months earlier at Breckinridge, I had ventured too far above the tree line with no way down except the black diamond runs. Peering down the sharp drop littered with igloo-sized moguls that day, I decided there was another way to go down…on my heiny. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to stop without a compound fracture if I stood up. I wasn’t anxious to find myself peering down another bone cruncher again.
So I joined the power lift line at the bottom of the main run by the restaurant. I knew enough about Copper to know that I wouldn’t have to make any big decisions before I got to the top of this lift and it would give me the ride up to plan my route.
A ski bum lift assistant asked me if I was single. My knee jerk reaction was to say “almost” but then I realized that he wasn’t asking about my relationship. I nodded.
He waved his ski pole above my head and shouted “single” in his booming voice. I was mortified. I wasn’t ashamed to be skiing alone but I didn’t necessarily want it broadcast. I hung my head in my exasperation. I heard someone answer “single.”
Great. I was still fuming about the morning’s events that had led to my lonely afternoon of skiing so I wasn’t excited to make polite conversation with my new lift buddy. I consoled myself with the fact that I could hide from the chit-chat behind my map.
My lift partner skied up beside me. I wish I could remember his real name. I can picture his face though. He was balding with wispy whitish gray hair on his temples. He had a grey and white mustache that was bushy and hid his upper lip at all times. He was two or three inches taller than me. He had blue-gray eyes with really large irises. His skin was crinkled in the pleasant way a person’s does when you know they have smiled a lot in the sunshine without sunscreen. He squinted when he talked like he was trying to squeeze the words out of his mind a little when he recounted a memory or tried to remember a date.
Let’s call him Dr. John.
Once Dr. John and I were situated and the lift got going, I unfolded my map and held it strategically in front of my grouchy face to discourage any small talk.
“Hi I’m Dr. John.” He said with his southern accent, smiling at my map. “What are you doing up on Copper all by your lonesome?”
The map was absolutely useless. I had myself a Chatty Kathy. I sighed and answered the question. I was vague. I asked him the same question about “being on his lonesome.” He was specific.
Dr. John was in Denver, Colorado for a medical convention but usually he lived in rural South Carolina. He was a family practice doctor.
When he said this, I pictured him with his well-worn black medical bag. I knew his walls of his aging office were covered in the yellowing photos of all the kids he delivered over the years, and still saw once a year if they were lucky more often than that if they were not. There is a ball cap on a filing cabinet signed by all the kids on the little league team that his practice sponsored. I saw the Elks Lodge pin in his desk drawer.
I have no idea if this was really how his practice looked. I guess for me, it fits the picture Hollywood has helped me create of what the country doctor in the rural south is like.
Dr. John and I got to know each other on the lift ride. Somewhere along the way I clarified my vague explanation about my situation. I can’t remember if I blurted it out in a big chunk or if after a series of strategic questions he pieced it together. I must have seemed a little emotional…and by “emotional” I mean crazy. However it happened, afterwards he invited me to ski with him that afternoon.
Now before anyone reading this starts jumping to conclusions, I should clarify that I was 26 at the time and he was clearly in his late 60s early 70s. And we weren’t in Newport Beach, so he wasn’t hunting for his fourth wife. Besides I already knew from our “getting to know you” conversation that he loved his wife of 40 something years.
Dr. John simply invited me to ski with him for the company. He wanted to help me ski better.
We started looking at the map and together we figured out a route that I could manage down from the lift we were on so we could go to another area that Dr. John knew would be good for me. I agreed but worried that Dr. John might be a bored hanging out with me on the easy runs. He only had a half-day to ski for goodness sake’s, I thought. Why waste it with a perfect stranger who wasn’t even as good a skier as he was?
But he didn’t seem to mind. He followed me down the easy runs. We went at my speed. I picked the route. I showed him the best I could do, speed, grace, turns, stopping, etc. He watched all of it and was pretty quiet for most of this run.
When we reached the bottom, he directed me over to a faster, wider lift that went higher up Copper Mountain. We easily glided up to the front of the line and I smiled to myself that neither of us was “single” anymore -- at least when it came to lift lines. He gave me a thorough coaching on my strengths and weaknesses on the next lift up.
The next few runs were like that. We would pick the route. I’d work on my turns and my weight shifting. He would follow me, watching my run and rate my progress on the way back up.
We skied this way for several hours until the sun waned behind our backs. The tips of the mountains had begun to crowd the sun’s bright face. The shadows of the aspen and evergreen stretched longer, purple and cold on the icy runs.
I was enjoying myself. I was smiling. I didn’t even mind that I had face-planted one of the last runs. One of the many things Dr. John taught me that day was that if you aren’t falling down, you aren’t trying very hard.
I had a certain amount of clarity too. On one of our trips up the mountain together I had told him that I had my doubts about my relationship. He looked over at me with his characteristic squint and smile and told me that he didn’t believe anyone could love another person unless they believed in Jesus Christ.
I knew right then that my boyfriend and I were doomed because neither of us spent a lot of time in devotion. Thankfully Dr. John wasn’t there to judge me. He was just coaching me, just like he had all day on my skiing.
Dr. John believed that you have to love yourself the way Jesus does so that you can accept the love of another. Then you have to love your mate the way Jesus loved you and show them you do by putting their needs and wishes above yours.
Clearly, when I think of it that way, my boyfriend and I really didn’t have a prayer…pun intended. He didn’t love himself and I didn’t put his needs above mine. And if you look at most failed relationships, it boils down to these two factors in some fashion.
Dr. John also told me that the best advice he could give me about my health is to take the cheapest multi-vitamin that I could find every single day for the rest of my life. It’s so basic. But not something I was doing at the time. It is now.
Dr. John and I parted ways as the last of the afternoon sun ducked down beneath the peaks at our backs. The runs were definitely more purple and cold than when we had first met that afternoon. My knee was throbbing slightly, but my heart was lighter. He was still smiling and squinting. He wished me well and I thanked him for everything effusively for the third time.
And he went on his way. Back to his wife and little league team …and church community apparently. He disappeared back into his life as quickly as he came to mine.
Dr. John made a huge impact on my life, almost by chance. Since I rarely ski these days, I remember what he said about love and vitamins the most. But even more importantly, Dr. John was so exceptionally giving to a perfect stranger. I think of him as an inspiration to be a better person when the opportunity presents itself.
I needed him that morning when I had ended up on that seat next to him at Copper Mountain that afternoon with the status of single. Since his coaching had so many repercussions in my life, I can’t help but wonder how he found me and took such an interest in me.
Pure chance? Maybe. Fate? Maybe. God. Who knows? But I broke up with my boyfriend right after we got back and met the man I will love for the rest of my life just a few weeks later on a blind date.
So whatever is responsible for the little southern doctor I met at Copper who fixed my skiing, got me to take my vitamins and helped me see the truth about my relationship, I am grateful. It was the best ski day ever.