Adventure Journal has more than 3,000 evergreen stories on its website. Occasionally, we bring them back to the front of the line so new readers can enjoy them. This essay was first published in March 2014.
A week or two ago, physicists announced that they’d found proof that the theory of the massive expansion of the universe in the split second after the big bang was true, an idea that was both simple to grasp and impossible to comprehend, and while the smaller details of their finding have slipped away from me, there was one notion that I won’t ever forget. Proof of inflation strongly suggests that there are other universes besides our own, probably many.
If that doesn’t snap your bean, I don’t know what will.
In the span of just a few days recently, I lost two people I loved, my 18-year-old niece and my last living aunt. Aunt Em had been sick for a while, but even so, the end always seems to come faster than it should, and the passing of every life is sad. Lynette’s death, though, was a complete shock, as those of young people usually are, a magnitude 9 earthquake whose emotional aftershocks are still rocking the family. Death usually stirs up the big questions, but two so close together, and one so heartbreaking as that of a beautiful, smart, beloved girl, tends to shake up the snow globe of your mind and keep things swirling around for weeks, if not months.
For example, just for a minute, try to think about all the lives lived in the history of our own little world, and then all the other little worlds in our galaxy, and all the other galaxies in our universe. Oh, and don’t forget all those other universes. Wait, what? How? Huh?
The scale of things boggles the mind, it really does, not just the scale of physical space from the subatomic to the trans-universal, but the conceptual – all that’s going on out there and in here. You sit there at a memorial and try to fit a life, or a death, into this, tears running down your face, and you just don’t know where to put it all. There just aren’t any words.
I don’t have the big answers, not yet, and while some books and people claim to know the truth, each of us still has to get up in the morning and find meaning in our life, reinvent it or reconnect with it each day, in hopes that doing so guides us on a journey that matters, that leads us to live lives that touch others in profoundly moving and wonderful ways. Each day, we have to look for it, we have to see it, and we have to live it.
For most of my adult life, I have gotten up in the morning and chased stoke, I have chased the thrill that comes from deep powder skiing primarily, but also from fast singletrack and glassy waves and filling in blank spots on the map. It’s been awesome. It still is awesome and I expect it to be awesome until the day I, too, die. And while I’ve never felt that I’ve lived particularly selfishly, or irresponsibly – family comes first, my work gets done – I’ve been to enough funerals in the last 15 years to know that when you’re gone people aren’t going to talk about how much vertical you logged, they’re going to talk about how you touched them, how you shared your most precious asset, your time, your life, with them, and how you mentored them or supported them or simply knew them well enough to know when they needed a hug and then you hugged them. What you do matters, but what you do for other people matters more, and there is no more profoundly moving place to experience that than at a funeral.
It has not been a good snow year in California, and I don’t have many powder days under my belt. I suppose I should be antsy, or grumpy, or champing at the bit, but I’m not.
Last month, I took my daughter snowboarding for the first time at our local hill. It wouldn’t have opened at all if it weren’t for snowmaking – there wasn’t a hint of snow until we pulled up at the base of the mountain – but coverage on the hill was good, and the sun softened the beginner runs just right.
After a couple hours on the magic carpet, she was game for the lift. We got on without any trouble and floated gently over the run, reviewing our exit strategy. Then we got off, and when we got off she lost her balance and she clung to me and I held her up and we slid out of the station into the sun with both arms on one another and then we came to a stop and I let her go. She wobbled for a second, windmilled her arms, and then caught herself and stood perfectly balanced on her board. She gleamed at me, gave me the biggest, most natural smile, not the slightest hint of the teenage angst that can darken the days, and damned if I didn’t choke up.
Stoke is great. Love is better. No matter what universe you’re in.