After graduating high school I was accepted into the Rotary Club International’s exchange program to spend a year in France. Part of the Rotary’s program is to share the hosting among the members, so approximately every 3 months I moved in with a new host family and consequently a new experience. As Spring Break of that year approached it was clear that the Rotary Club was unsure what to do with me. All of my host families had made plans and the Rotarians wanted me to have a good week. The head of the local chapter approached me with an idea. “Would you like to go skiing?” I’d go alone, all expenses paid. A long train ride to the small village of L'Argentière-la-Bessée, where my ski guide would pick me up and take me to the mountain hostel where I would join his other clients for a week of guided back country skiing (ski de randonée).
I think he barely finished the words “skiing” before I said YES!!! Spring break came and as I boarded the train my host mother asked me if I had enough money? Oh yeah, I said. I had a whopping 450 Francs in my pocket – at that time about the equivalent of $50. I spent a few dollars during the train ride to get a snack. When I arrived in the Alps it was dumping snow. Too much snow to be safe with a guided group in the back country, so the alternative was to spend a few days in bounds at one of the three local ski areas. Skiing in hip deep powder every day was amazing! Could it be any more perfect?
We stopped to have drinks after lunch each day, and my fellow skiers suggested that we each take turns buying a round of coffee for the group. Of course, I wanted to participate and quickly calculated that would take about $30 of what remained of my $50. I started to get nervous that something would happen and I would be stuck without money. I knew I would forego eating on the train ride home.
The week was amazing, we got in some back country trips, skinning up and cruising down through untracked powder. I had managed all week on a bare minimum, skiing during the day and reading in the sitting room in the evenings. Happily falling exhausted into my spartan bunk every evening. The final night of this trip, I was reading my book (Albert Camus, La Peste) when a women’s college soccer team entered the lounge area and sat down around me. I chatted briefly with the few who were seated closest to me. They were just passing through and were staying in the hostel on their way to a tournament somewhere.
I had only brought one pair of wool ski socks with me on this trip, and had worn them daily. I also had not thought to bring soap or shampoo with me. So each night I took a hot shower and tried to rinse the stink off from skiing. But by this time I was starting to smell bad, and my socks were the worst of it. I would hang them every evening to dry out and be ready to go the next day. This last night of the trip, I hung them in my cubby where I was keeping my stuff and crawled into my upper bunk in the co-ed dormitory of the hostel. Everyone was in bed and the lights were out when I heard a few of the women on the soccer team start to chatter. “What is that smell!?” “Oh pew – something stinks!” There were some other guests at the hostel that night. One of the women accused a guy in a voice loud enough to hear “It’s that guy from Paris”. Then he said back “No, it’s the American”… I was caught. I lay as still as I could in my bed, mortified, feeling like there was no escape. Maybe if I just pretended to be asleep.
The next morning I “slept in” staying under the sheet of my bunk until I was sure everyone had left the hostel. As I gathered my things to leave, I noticed that the man I had been skiing with left his body wash on top of my cubby (so I couldn’t miss it). I grabbed the bottle and hit the shower, my first with soap in over a week. It felt good to be genuinely clean and not just rinsed off. I got lucky that someone noticed and decided to help.
Why did I tell you about my ski vacation in the French Alps? Because I’ve realized in the last year, my life is a lot like that story. It didn’t start there, and it’s still happening. The truth is I wake up every morning like I’m in the middle of a Talking Heads song:
“And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself
Well...How did I get here?
Letting the days go by
Let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by
Water flowing underground
Into the blue again
After the money's gone
Once in a lifetime
Water flowing underground”
I am incredibly lucky – my children are healthy, I love my house, I love my work, I have everything I need to survive and I have people who love me. I still love to ski, and now I get to share that with my son!
In general, every day for me is like skiing in the Alps. “how can this really be happening, I’m so lucky!” But also every day I live with very little margin, often not enough to buy some soap AND a round of drinks for my new friends. So most of the time I choose to buy a round of drinks for my new friends and skip the soap. It’s OK, how can I possibly complain? I’m skiing in the Alps having drinks with my new friends! ALSO, most of my life I’ve chosen to suffer where I don’t need to. Why didn’t I tell my host mom that I only had $50? Why didn’t I ask my skiing companions if I could borrow some soap? Why didn’t I let anybody know that I didn’t have any money left to buy something to eat on the train ride home?
I’m trying not to live that way anymore. I’m trying to be more vulnerable and hopefully more interconnected. I plan to let people know when I need some soap. And even if no one responds, it’s OK because I’m still skiing in the Alps! But at least I won’t be suffering any longer because of my own silence and self abuse. I’m so humbled and grateful when people do respond. And I’m always surprised. I hope to always be humble and grateful, but not always surprised.
Update on Stacey: I’m thankful to everyone who has reached out with some word of encouragement or gesture of support. Stacey was enduring flu like symptoms at the beginning of the week. It’s been a rough one. She is mostly over the flu like symptoms, but still has wide fluctuations in her energy levels. Round 2 is coming up in a week. Stacey started to notice some clumps of hair coming out of her scalp a few days ago and decided to take a pro-active approach. The kids and I took turns with the scissors to help create her new look.
Please continue to send your prayers, good energy, good thoughts and encouragement our way. We are preparing to continue our year at the Allender Center and continue to accumulate the expenses of participating in their certificate programs as well as our medical expenses. If you’d like to contribute in any way click here: Contribute or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org