A Touch of Encouragement

On the last night of December, sixteen hundred and two years ago, according to Thomas Cahill, author of “How The Irish Saved Civilization“, “the Rhine river froze solid, providing the natural bridge that hundreds of thousands of hungry men, women, and children had been waiting for….” With this he begins the story of the fall of the Roman Empire, describing the charge of “barbarians” against the Romans. Cahill’s marvelous book grabs you and never lets you go until you are convinced that the Irish did, indeed, provide their own bridge of civilization between the classical and medieval worlds.

However, reading that first paragraph again this morning, all I could think about was all those freezing women slipping and sliding across the ice, wondering if this invasion was really such a good idea. And that brought me to my own last-day-of-December deadline that still had yet to meet: I couldn’t let the year end without doing “the thing.”
“The thing” is simple enough to those who know how to do “the thing.” It’s skiing down an incline. We’re not talking downhill. We’re not talking down a slope, or even a bunny hill. I’m talking about just standing up on two skis and allowing gravity to pull one slightly forward. But anything covered in snow and steeper than a sidewalk in Kansas has absolutely terrified me since I tried to ski at age twelve and broke my leg in the first fifteen minutes of my lesson.
Since then, I have avoided skis, skates, sleds, virtually every winter sport. No one who knows me has ever considered me coordinated, let alone athletic. But after losing a significant amount of weight over the last few years, last Christmas I managed to stand on a pair of cross country skis and scoot forward for ten minutes without falling. I counted that a victory and went back inside. This year my goal was to beat my ten minute record AND add something to the whole ordeal by actually moving at an angle.
So, I put down Cahill’s book, bundled up, went out into the snow, and prayed to survive the next fifteen minutes. It helps if you have a small child nearby saying “you can do it, Mama.” It also helps to know that if you DON’T do it, that same child will remind you of this the next time you tell her to eat her salad using the very same words.
And so, I did it. I did “the thing.” It’s a small thing. But as I slid down that road, wondering which Emergency Room would take me faster on a New Year’s Eve, I told myself “if you live through this freezing, stupid stunt, Williamson, at least you can face the New Year with one more promise to yourself under your belt.”
I lived. But I had done nothing great, nothing as brave as a desperate barbarian woman running across a frozen river. I am blessed to be alive with a home and a family, food on the table, friends to share it with, and occasionally enough free time to go out in the snow and make a fool of myself. I have nothing in common with those courageous women. But if I may be so presumptuous, I like to think that we shared one thing: once we made it across the snow and the ice on our respective New Year’s Eves, there was no turning back. We had done “the thing” and we were stronger for it.

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