Skateboarding Down the Mountain

9 10 2011

 My friend Deborah and I were driving back down the mountain after having spent the day exploring and hiking. The speed limit said 45, but even that was a stretch as we hugged the curves and braked around the switchbacks. Then we came up to three or four cars backed up and going about 30 mph. Braking even more, we looked ahead to see what the holdup was. There, out in front, was a guy going down the mountain. On a skateboard.

His support team was in the car just behind him, giving him enough room and protecting him from other vehicles as best they could. A beep from that car let him know it was time to let other cars pass, and the skateboarder veered off onto the shoulder of the road, jumped off the skateboard, and ran ahead a dozen steps or so until he could slow down from his own inertia. As we passed, I caught a glimpse of his face: a wide grin plastered from one side to the other.

I knew that look. It was the same grin that had stretched across my own face when I was sea-kayaking in Alaska, my little boat bobbing up and down as sea spray splashed over me. I knew that look. That grin was a mirror to a soul living life exuberantly.

I am 52 years old. As a white female, I can expect to live to be 80.8 years old, although my family history indicates that I might even add an additional ten years to that estimate. By any estimation, however, I am over half way through my life. I am, so to speak, “over the hill.” Yet I refuse to slow down, to take the easy way, to live a calm, safe life.  As long as my body allows me, I want to be the one skateboarding down the mountain, a grin plastered across my face as I race down the slope with exuberance.

And as to this “life as a hill” metaphor that has you over the hill and heading down at a certain point: I prefer to think of life as a climb to the top, which gives a whole new meaning to the following poem that I always teach my students.

How To Tell The Top Of A Hill

 by John Ciardi

The top of a hill

Is not until

The bottom is below.

And you have to stop

When you reach the top

For there’s no more UP to go.

To make it plain

Let me explain:

The one most reason why

You have to stop

When you reach the top — is:

The next step up is sky.