I was in a situation I couldn’t see my way out of short of calling in the ski patrol, however you do that. The problem: the bottom of the mountain was very different from the top. What had been manageable down below on my amateur legs was now not at all up here on this pure, impenetrable ice — a certain, one-way ticket into the tree hazards for me where I would not quite die from a head injury.
The question alarming me: how would the ski patrol get me to safety? I envisioned myself sitting low to the ground and being slid down the mountainside in a sled tethered to the waists of a rescue team while everyone from 5-year-olds to 75-year-olds whizzed on by. A true sled-ride of shame.
However, against every conviction I had about my own capability to get safely to the bottom locked atop excessively long, smooth, fast runners, Gary, Melanie and Dave nonetheless figured otherwise based on pure confidence in their ability to usher me down the 4,237-foot elevation of Sugarloaf. But all I could see was the very real possibility of my skis getting away from me, escalating to speeds beyond my ability to control. I could feel the runaway train inside, already priming to take out innocent skiers along the way. Unless, of course, I was brought down by another out-of-control skier first.
It wasn’t good. As Gary cheerfully described the conditions later, there were a lot of death cookies on the mountain that day, icy little balls ready to roll you right to your demise.
But we forged ahead with Gary leading the way, modeling the exact path for me to follow while Melanie and Dave provided protection from the sides. This was their mountain and they were my hosts. Somehow they all still seemed so happy I was there. That was just the way it was, so we picked our way down the side of the mountain, taking a break every ten feet until my shaky legs could go again. It took forever, but surrounded by these 3 people, two of whom I knew only casually, I never felt so loved. It was the most singular experience.
In fact, I want to say I have never felt so cared for and enfolded in love in my entire life, which is utter ridiculousness. At the very least, I have been cared about if not full-out loved on some level every day of my life. But just not in such a visually literal way.
Truly, exactly how often does love come in such literal formation with a squadron of people physically surrounding you on all sides? Not very often, which is just too bad because being encircled by a love team is impossible to miss and staggering to feel. In fact, it is so profoundly transformative I want to make this story a manifesto for caring by stroke of a single line so devastating it will compel everyone reading this to channel Mother Theresa on a daily basis from here on out because it is so desperately, urgently important for each and every one of us to regularly feel like we matter this much every single day of our lives.
But that’s bullshit. At least the part about mass transformation into Mother Theresa because this is just not how we really work. My sense is we can only sustain this sort of top level encircling care and love on an episodic and erratic basis at best. But just to validate my suspicion, I interviewed Gary, a solid test case for this love potentiality within us because he is already about as high an example of an everyday good guy as there is. The question is, after reading a devastatingly inspiring one-sentence manifesto of love if such a devastating sentence could be written, would his ability to care escalate to the level of Mother Theresa or would his capacity for caring eventually find its humble limits?
He gave this question some serious thought. After a good five minutes of silently sitting on the couch in deep consideration, he was able to identify the sorts of circumstances in which he would be ready to spring to action and the circumstances in which he would drop out. First thing that comes to his mind is this:
- He’s out of it if the situation is too uncomfortable, like having to take a kid to the bathroom, which strikes me as a relatively easy one to fulfill in the realm of compassion tests;
- However, he would be fine helping out a filthy person.
- Annoying people are also fine, something he’s already broadly experienced in as a business owner but something that would test me to my very core if it meant people hanging around and gobbling up my time.
- But a druggee on the other hand… he’s highly suspicious by nature, so though his heart is primed for love, a danger assessment is first required.
- An assessment being called into play, for instance, if someone calls for help across the parking lot of a bank. That’s highly suspicious.
- Or if someone stands in your driveway and asks you about a puppy, which also qualifies as suspicious for a reason I can’t quite grasp.
- Also not to be forgotten are plain practical considerations like where you need to be and if you are crunched for time.
- And then sometimes there is just something else you want to do and encircling random people with love isn’t it.
So while Gary is highly reliable in a crisis for mankind in general — in the top 5% of the population for overall helpfulness I would say — and is always my angel, there are limits and conditions even to his loving capacity.
But of course, my love manifesto fantasy and Mother Theresa capacity test is all ridiculousness anyway. I know this. In the end, our nature is just sometimes we go long and sometimes we fall short. Like Abraham Verghese says in his novel, Cutting for Stone: “The world turns on our every action, and our every omission, whether we know it or not.”
For myself, I committed my first cruelty at the innocent age of 4. And I knew it.
To be continued…
Gary — My partner of 11 years, who has no children of his own, which explains the bathroom thing. Despite that and though bathrooms and diapers are a firm line, he’s a natural and outstanding grandfather-ish playmate to our four midgets.
The stories in this blog are excerpts from my memoir, The Organization Project. While they are true to me and reflect how I see, I acknowledge there are multiple truths, including my own which change over time, even as the events themselves remain the same, whatever they were. What I make of an event 5 years out may not be what I make of it 10 years out or 50 years out.