Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lives Intersect on the Patio of a Ski Lodge.

I am not particularly fond of crowds, but every once in a while I am up for a good “people watching” experience. I love opportunities to sit as a quiet observer in a crowd of people to catch a glimpse of others lives. Was it merely a coincidence that thousands of strangers paths crossed on a beautiful day in Snow Basin, Utah?”

The word coincidence has dual meaning. In one sense, it describes a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance. In another sense, the purely mathematical sense, it describes the perfect intersection of angles. I figured there must be something to learn from this “perfect intersection” of so many lives, so I set up camp and took the opportunity to polish my people watching skills.

The patio of a ski lodge provides a fascinating cross section of life—it’s like looking at the rings of a tree. In Ring 1, the center, are kids 10 and under. I love watching the toddlers barreling down the slopes focused solely on keeping up with mom and dad, and the "tweens" flying over jumps with enviable ease. Mindset: “Just keep skiing.”

The teens, members of Ring 2 were noticeably absent. They made their appearance at the lodge for the obligatory parental check-in before disappearing again to the upper peaks of the mountain as far away from supervision as they could get. Their pimple faced mission was simple…seek “their own kind” and dare each other to accept challenges that make us more experienced types shudder. Mindset: “No fear.” Or maybe it’s “no clue”. I can’t decide.

I was positioned near a very vocal group of young individualists, the members of Ring Three. It was difficult to ignore the fact that twenty something’s have attitudes much larger than their experience. Watching them, I couldn’t help but notice that their gear probably cost more than their monthly rent payments. Designer labels and looking good were the dominant themes as they actively checked each other out. Predominant mindset: “I’m hot.”

Ring 4: A group of “thirty something’s” who had recently traded their expensive “twenty something” gear for more practical, pocket ridden “parental gear” were noticeably outnumbered by their broods. They were lugging more weight in ski gear than they had in children and often required two complimentary wheelbarrows to handle the logistics.

As a recent member of this “ring”, I could really relate. One family in particular held my interest for quite some time. They had four, two year olds and two, four year olds. I couldn’t help wonder if they had their own reality show. Mom and Dad had distinct roles. Dad dragged two kids at a time, up and down the bunny slope. Each time he returned to the base of the chair lift, he passed the twenty something’s. I couldn’t help wonder if thirty something Dad was yearning for his more carefree twenty something days.

Thirty something mom was truly at the end of her rope and had resorted to using her voice as a bull horn, barking out orders to everyone including her husband. She was the designated bathroom matron. In the 60 minutes I sat on the patio she made four trips to the bathroom. During one particularly overwhelming moment, she produced two giant boxes of pretzels and donuts. My first reaction was decidedly judgmental as I thought, “Way to fill em’ up with sugar, Mom.” Thankfully, I regained my good sense and I realized health food was not what the situation called for. She needed a little sugar coated leverage and a strong drink! Dad’s job was more tiring. Mom’s job was more frustrating, and this was clearly and endeavor of unconditional love. Mindset: “Divide and Conquer.” I was in awe!

Moving on to the forty something’s…my crowd. This group was noticeably more relaxed than the 30 something’s, enjoying family time and their new found freedom with children who were almost entirely self-sufficient. They were reaping the rewards of the hard labor of the thirty something years and bracing for trials of the fifty something years. Mindset: “I Can Rest For a Moment.”

In Ring 5 were the fifty something’s, primarily men who seemed to be out for a day of adrenaline induced fun. I caught a few of them popping Advil’s mid-day, masking their pain and holding out for a few more runs. They bonded with other fifty something’s in ways that only adventure seeking men can. And I noticed several groups shaking hands with departing words of “It was nice skiing with you. Hope to see you again sometime”. Mindset: “All by Myself.”

Ring 6--the 60+ crowd. I hesitate to label this group “senior” because they exhibited a display of energy and athleticism that would put many of us to shame. This group overwhelmingly projected a sense of inner peace, gratitude and wisdom and I found myself thinking, this is how I want to be when I am sixty something. They were clearly unhurried, impervious to others opinions, and had no apparent agenda other than to relish and enjoy the experience at their own pace. Mindset: “I’ll Do It My Way.”

This coincidental gathering of thousands on a beautiful day in Utah provided a snapshot of the timeline of life. It reminded me that we are all on our own paths, and we are exactly where we need to be at the moment. There is nothing more to do than take it all in, enjoy it, learn from it, and look forward to the next stage.

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