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  • Pat

the long road ahead of us

“You’ll be fine. It’s like riding a bike!”

Oh, if only it were that easy. He remembered the last time he was here. He was so full of confidence. He had trained hard for the moment. He had good mentors. They taught him exactly how to handle the gates and the twists that waited for him. “Stick to the plan!” said his coach. “Keep to the narrow path. Hit the gates just the way we taught you and the victory is yours!”

He had skied down this course many times. He knew it well. That day, he knew he was ready to conquer the course and take home the victory.

But that’s not what happened. He started out great with an awesome push. But then a tinge of doubt entered his mind. “I’m not fast enough,” he thought. “I need to do something different.” The years of practice; all his study of the course raced through his brain. He knew the best route to the finish line as well as anybody. “But….. maybe I can save time if I clip this gate a little harder….”

It’s the last thought he remembered. He woke up in a trauma center. His skull was fractured along with both collarbones and a femur. A tube pierced his chest to keep his lung from collapsing again. He tasted plastic and realized he couldn’t speak and wasn’t in control of his breathing. Something had gone very wrong.

During the grueling rehabilitation, he learned who his friends really were. He couldn’t apologize enough to his coach. He knew he let him down. Surprisingly, the coach just kept telling him to forget it; that next time, he’ll do better. “Are you kidding?” he thought. “Do you think I want to try that again?”

“You have to. I know you can do it and do it better the next time. I have faith in you.” The few who came to visit him agreed. He was a great skier. He was going to conquer that course someday.

One visitor was there every day. He would sit off to the side and talk for hours. His voice sounded vaguely familiar and comforting. After some time, he realized the visitor wasn’t just talking. He was reading. He couldn’t always make out the words. Some days he just kept hearing, “stay on the narrow course” over and over again.

It seemed like no time passed before he found himself looking down the slope again. The snow-covered mountaintop should have been cold; but he felt nothing. He tried to feel something, but he couldn’t. Then he recognized the voice. “It’s a narrow course. Stay on the course. Victory is at the end of the narrow course….” He thought he was going crazy, but the voice calmed him.

He didn’t remember starting down the hill; but suddenly he was coming up on the same gate. He panicked. “What if I do the same thing? What if I crash again? What if…?” He woke up in the trauma center again. Again the reading voice and the coach telling him he has to try it another time.

And in a flash, there he was. This time snow was blowing all around him. He heard the voice still playing in his head. “Keep to the path. It is a narrow way. Stay true to the plan.” But wait! Now there was a second voice.

“It’s too narrow. You need to go wider. Use the whole course. Use the fresher snow on the edges….” And before he knew it, there he was again; coming up on the same turn. The second voice got louder. “Go to the edges! It’s too tight!” He could feel his skis slipping out from under him.

Then there was only one voice…barely audible among the beeps and the whooshing noises of the trauma center. After some time, the coach’s voice broke the monotony. There was a slight sense of urgency now. “Try again!”

In the blink of an eye, he was back on the mountain. The wind was howling around him. More voices taunted him. There was some laughter and some yelling. “You can’t do it! Forget about it! Just ski to the side! Maybe you should use the bunny trail!” None of it made sense…but it all seemed like a good idea. He strained to hear if the first voice was still there. He almost thought he could hear it when he saw the gate racing towards him. He gasped and veered away hard.

“We’re losing him!” He was in the trauma center again. There was a lot of noise and commotion, but he felt nothing. There was a steady hum amidst the clamor, which he eventually recognized was the voice. He couldn’t make out what it was saying, but it was comforting to know it was there again. And just as quick, there he was on the mountaintop…and the coach was in his ear.

“You’ll be fine. It’s like riding a bike! Just do it the way you were taught!”

Then snow started falling harder than before. The wind made it impossible to see; and it carried the voices: “Don’t you realize you can’t do it? Forget about the coach! Take the safer way! We’ll back you up! We’ll help you!” There was more laughter and it got louder and louder. He strained to listen for the voice that brought him comfort through all of this. The more he strained to understand, the louder the other voices became. “Where are you?” Then he felt something inside of him snap. He had enough. “GO AWAY ALL OF YOU! I don’t need your help. I don’t need your advice. Let me hear my comforter!”

“Stay on the course. You can do it.” The sun shone bright. The wind felt fresh on his face. He could feel the skis gripping the snow cover. Soon the gate appeared in front of him. He turned his face away and leaned his shoulder into it just like he was taught. He barely felt the gate as it yielded to his control. Just like that, it was behind him. The rest of the course came into view with more gates looming ahead.

Then a familiar voice: “Let’s go son. We have a long road ahead of us!”

He wiped the drool from his chin as he started out the door. “We sure do, Dad. We sure do.”

#fiction #secondchances #narrowpath

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