“Let's talk on Skype tomorrow,” my mom says, gladness in her voice. I taught my parents to use Skype recently, and they are enamored of the experience. Imagine—we can see one another, though they're in New Jersey and I'm in Alabama! It is remarkable.
“But wait,” she adds, “Willie has a Special Olympics skiing practice that night.”
“He does?” I reply. “Wow, I didn't realize he was doing that!”
“Oh yes,” she says. “You know your brother on skis.”
Indeed I do. Willie and I grew up skiing; our parents had us in ski schools from a young age. In fact, our parents met skiing. That is, they met through mutual friends who had gathered in a ski lodge after a day on the slopes. The rest, as they say, is history. But I must confess: skiing isn't my favorite sport. There's so much effort that goes into it. One has to drive several hours, don innumerable layers, buy lift passes, fumble with heavy gear, and sit on a chilly chairlift with increasingly numb hands and feet. But to the true devotee, none of this matters. All that counts is the feeling of the crisp winter wind in one's face, the swift speed of snow under one's feet. It's true, it is a rush. And one of my favorite things about skiing was—and is—flying down the mountain with Willie.
Willie was always the trail-blazer on family skiing trips. Even though he was an “amateur” skier, my parents (“professionals” by comparison), had trouble keeping up with him. He was fearless; he'd point his skis directly downhill and let the speed carry him away. Willie knew how to ski “properly”; he knew how to turn, but he chose to take flight. Yet interestingly enough, when Willie grew older, his skiing changed too. He became the slowest skier in our family, taking each turn with a pain-staking perfectionism. I remember coaching him to pick up the pace, urging him to keep up with me. What a reversal it was—almost as dramatic as the concurrent personality change from happy boy to antagonistic adolescent.
Even so, Willie's brazen skiing days made their mark on me. He challenged me to pick up the pace in my own skiing, and in the rest of my life as well. For example, I had a new Kindle Single, I Was a Stranger to Beauty, published by ThinkPiece Publishing this week. The Single is about my family's experience with Willie's behavioral challenges, and our journey to love and accept him as he is. Throughout the publication process, I have been both nervous and excited, wondering how the book might be received, what people would think of this intensely personal account. But whenever I'd start worrying too much about the reception, I'd think of Willie skiing and smile. I'd think of my brave brother, daring to be happy and free.
One specific instance stood out in my mind. On this long-ago day, I stood atop a rise on a ski-trail, lined up with Willie and another family friend; we were getting ready to race. Willie was eager to take off, but he also loved the competition, the prospect of racing against us. His smile told me as much. I remember seeing him pull ahead, and then bending my knees deeply, Olympic-speed-racer style, so that I could catch up with him. Together, we flew down the trail, going at an outrageous pace. We were savoring the same experience, and in that moment, there were no barriers and no need for words. There were simply two siblings flying down the mountain like crazy people, skiing their hearts out together.
Today, I look out the window to a deluge of falling flurries. And I can't help but smile at the snow; I can't help but think of Willie. He skis differently now. Gone is the abandon of youth; gone is the tentativeness of adolescence. Today, Willie combines his love for speed with his knowledge of turning and proper form. His skiing has grown up along with him. And as his Special Olympics event approaches, I hope he'll take home the gold.