Gratitude

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Someone once said: “I no longer take anything for granted; I now only have good days and great days.”

Tomorrow morning upon awakening, try taking a quick inventory of things for which to be grateful.

If you awaken, your heart must be beating. Be grateful for your heart. Be grateful that you don’t have to remember to beat your heart. Some hearts stopped beating last night. There is no guarantee that your heart will beat tomorrow.

If your heart is beating, you must be breathing. Be grateful for your breath. Be grateful that you don’t have to remember to breathe. Some folks exhaled for the last time last night. There is no guarantee that you will breathe tomorrow.

If you see more than darkness when you open your eyes, be grateful. Some people don’t have the gift of vision. They have never, and will never see light, let alone color and beauty.

If you slept, be grateful for your house. Grand or modest, it must have been warm and dry enough for your body to be comfortable enough to fall asleep. Uncontrollable shivering kept some folks awake last night. Uncontrollable shivering was the only thing that kept some folks alive last night.

If you rested while sleeping, be grateful for your mind. Some folks spent a sleepless night tormented by worrisome thoughts as their mind raced uncontrollably. They awoke this morning exhausted and fearful.

If you put your feet on the floor, be grateful. Some folks are too weak or sick to move from bed. Some folks have no feet.

If you breakfast, be grateful. Many folks awake hungry every morning, then try to sleep at night having eaten nothing all day.

If you awoke to a pet, friends, or family be grateful. Many folks are always alone. They have no one. To them, there is no love to give; there is no love to receive.

If you’ve gotten this far, be grateful. Know that with faith and a reasonably functioning body and mind, you are entirely equipped to negotiate whatever the day will present you.

Have a great day!

Jack Mehaffey

While making turns with his friends on the opening day of ski season, Jack Mehaffey suffered a stroke on the Susquehanna. Ski patrol responded. Jack’s care was excellent; he was transported rapidly and efficiently.

As Jack reached definitive care quickly, initially, it seemed that his prognosis was good. Though certainly his injury was very concerning, knowing Jack, we all felt that he’d bounce back, maybe even quickly enough to enjoy some more turns with friends come spring time.

In the following days, the news was not so good. Jack was in a coma. The information provided by the machines monitoring his condition was not encouraging.

Chatting at lunch with a mutual ski buddy who too had suffered a stroke, and after a couple of years, has made a nearly complete recovery, we decided that despite the facts of Jack’s condition, we would remain optimistic. We weren’t about to write him off. Jack was one of the best skiers we knew. And skiers, we agreed, are generally a stubborn sort and don’t die easily.

Finally, the news of Jack’s passing reached the mountain earlier this week.

While in coma, he gave us a few days to keep him in the forefront of our mind, and to finally, say so long.

The response from many folks, patrollers and instructors, when asked how they knew Jack, was simply “Jack is family”.

There was an integrity about Jack that made one feel close to him even if one didn’t know him that long. He had a quiet strength that made one feel that, when the chips were down, he’s the guy you want to be at your side.

There was a gentleness and ease about him that one would not expect from someone who had spent a career in law enforcement in one of the toughest cities in the country.

As a husband, son, brother, father, grandfather, police officer, ski instructor, friend, and member of the mountain family, Jack spent his life in service to others.

He suffered the injury that would take him from us among his ski buddies, doing what he loved most.

A rich life sharing love of sport and service to others punctuated among friends on a ski slope is more than most of us could hope for. Even after passing, Jack continues to inspire us.

And, except for maybe a movie star, nobody, but nobody, wore a smile and a mustache as good as Jack did.

Sacred Arts of Tibet Tour Mandala

mandalaSome things fall into the category of “…you don’t see that everyday…”.

A mandala, a beautiful, sacred piece of art, as detailed as any oil painting, created using only colored sand is one of those things.

Tibetan monks clad in robes of saffron, patiently create mandalas using simple tools; their command of the tools and medium so evolved, they place a grain of sand at a time to create the finest details of the work.

Depending upon the pattern, it takes several monks several hours, sometimes several days to complete the painstaking work. Monks must experience many years of specific training and spiritual study before they may work on a mandala, which to them is more an exercise of faith than artistry.

What becomes of the mandala when completed? To emphasise the concept of the impermanance of this life, the mandala is blessed, then disassembled using both a sacred ritual item, and a common dry paint brush. In a matter of moments, what took many monks many hours, or days to complete is swept into a pile of sand which is then distributed to offer blessings throughout the world.

The work shown above was created this week by monks visiting the University of Scranton as part of the “Sacred Arts of Tibet Tour” which continues through this weekend at Wellspring House in Tunkhannock, and the Indraloka Animal Sanctuary in Mehoopany.

tibet_tour_scheduleThe monks, forced from their native Tibet, are scheduled to offer a lecture Friday, Dec 12th, and create another mandala on Saturday, December 13th at the Wellspring House. Sunday, the monks will be at the Indraloka Animal Sanctuary to bless the animals.

Their visit is to share Tibetan culture, and to raise money to build housing for the next generation of young monks in their home in exile, southern India. At each venue, they offer authentic Tibetan objects, including incense, wall hangings, and jewlery at very reasonable prices. Many items are around $10.00 and make beautiful, unique Christmas gifts while directly supporting a very worthy cause.

Visiting one of the Sacred Arts of Tibet Tour venues just to hear a lecture, see the art, or purchase some gifts is reason enough to take time from the increasingly frenetic pace of the holiday season.

If you attend an event and hang out with the monks, you may find the experience to have a startingly visceral component.

When in the presence of very attractive, wealthy, or famous people, their charisma can cause us to experience feelings of excitement to simply be near such individuals in the flesh.

These monks own nothing, most of average looks; none of them are famous. Some folks feel pity at the monk’s essential lifestyle, and will give them things. Monks will not keep gifts; they will give them away, not out of lack of gratitude, but because they know that they already have everything they need. Posession of any items other than their robes, footwear, bowl, and ritual items, would be but encumberances.

Absent the attributes of what we typically consider “success”, why does being in the presence of these monks make one feel their energy, their charisma so strongly?

When I arrived to see the monks at the University of Scranton, I walked up to one who was not working on the mandala, and greeted this perfect stranger with the same affection as if he was an old friend. He rsponded in kind. Despite him knowing no English, and me knowing no Tibetan, we took a ‘selfie’ together, and giggled at the result. Still laughing, he squeezed my hand as would any close friend.

In addition to sharing their culture and raising money for housing, perhaps even more importantly, another stated purpose of their visit is to acquaint us, or remind us of the importance of practicing compassion and loving kindness toward each other.

These monks dedicate their lives to becoming experts in technologies and philosophies, thousands of years old, of how to be a better human being.

Knowing the bondage posed by unecessary posessions, they practice poverty. They rarely eat much more than necessary to sustain themselves. They work. They pray. They meditate. They love one another. They commit their lives to the service of others. They love strangers as they love their family and friends.

Their faith is so highly evolved, they live, they love, without fear.

They recognize all other beings, humans and otherwise, as creatures of divinity, cherishing and respecting them deeply.

It seems very appropriate to have the message of gratitude, respect, faith, love, and service to others, so strongly presented to us, particularly at this time of year.

Even more special that this message is presented by sacred, smiling folks who, unbeknownst to us, pray for our well being every day, whether they are visiting in our midst, or from half a world away.

Opening Day

 

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Some opening days of ski season seem to start weeks, or months before the mountain opens.

Anticipating the joy of Winter, much time leading up to the day is spent locating and unpacking ski clothes put away for the Summer, and making sure that all equipment is meticulously prepared, tuned, and ready to go.

All that’s left to do on the actual day is to shower, dress, and call in sick.

This year was, umm, different.

This year, opening day began before the end of last season when it became evident that no matter how many socks were worn, no matter how tightly they were buckled, the ski boots that had served so faithfully for so many seasons were no longer supportive, no longer safe; they had to be retired. They had earned it.

Getting new skis can be very fun. Taking the first few runs on them on gentle terrain, learning where they like to be stood on, finding out how much weight can be applied toward the tips before the tails slide out, how much strength and balance it takes to hold on when weight applied to the tails accelerate the skis beyond one’s comfort zone. Scary. Fun. Blissful.

Skis come and go, each with their individual character and charm; some better in deep snow, some better on ice, some easy to turn, some that don’t respond to input until accelerated to speed. Some folks maintain a quiver of skis, keeping several pairs from which to choose based on mood or particular conditions or situations.

Boots, however, are another matter all together. Boots are a commitment. Boots can only be modified so much to fit – some plastic cut here, some padding applied there, buckles adjusted to tighten over voids, loosened over hot spots.

Much research poring over the latest ski equipment “Buyers Guides” resulted in much confusion. Choose your width (97, 100, 102) choose your flex (100, 110, 120, 130, 140) choose boots that have switches to make walking easier, choose boots that have soles for better hiking, choose boots that are only for racing, choose boots cause you like the color…

By contrast, in the late 60’s, Lange, the premier ski boot brand at the time, offered three models, all essentially the same black ski boot with different stiffnesses: Standard with red liner for beginners, Pro with blue liners for advanced skiers, and Competition with yellow liners for racers.

Choosing a particular boot brand and model is a big commitment. As they virtually immobilize one’s ankles, ski boots determine the stance, and therefore the balance point one assumes while on their skis. Feet and skiing style must then adapt to the charactaristics of a ski boot. This process can take several seasons. Literally.

Weeks ago, I had decided on the simplest option of all: a pair of 100width 110flex Lange racing boots. If I’d a had my ‘druthers, I would have preferred plain black, but these beauties were the most gorgous shade of blue.

Even before out of the box, they looked purposeful, competent – worthy of an extended partnership. A partnership that I knew would require me to adjust how I did the thing that I loved most doing.

Having worn them several hours over several evenings, I found that only after I tightened them down did they make my feet go numb. Having partnered with several boots over the years, I knew that how a boot felt in the livingroom may or may not have anything to do with how they felt on skis.

Overwhelmed with office work for the last few weeks, the morning of opening day this year was not nearly as methodical as some, and there would be the added consideration of new ski boots.

Not scheduled to be on duty until afternoon, the morning was spent with office work and chores, that of course took longer than anticipated.

Ski Patrol uniform had been washed last week, but not much else was accumulated. As the time to leave for the mountain drew near, underwear was donned, gloves and helmet located in considerable haste, skis and poles, sporting a fine coating of Summer dust, pulled out of the barn, were tossed in the back of the car.

Reaching the end of the driveway, a thought came to mind – “Goggles!”. A fast switch to reverse, a dash back in and out of the house, then onward to the mountain.

Dressed in uniform, complete with new boots, I skated off to the lift, greeted the liftie, and thanked him for holding the chair for me. Strange, I thought, riding the lift today felt like I had ridden it yesterday – not eight months ago!

The chair ride seemed to take forever, but then finally, the moment of truth. Top of the mountain reached, I slid off the lift, and buckled the boots at a reasonably loose setting. Heading down the most gentle trail making very deliberate, slow speed turns, I found these boots to be more precise than the ones recently retired. I liked them. They seemed to like me.

Next run down a slightly steeper pitch caused my feet and lower leg to feel like they were wrapped in security. Next run down an even steeper pitch let me feel that even though we didn’t know each other that well, I could depend on them. These babies were rock solid. They were Langes – worn by guys like Killy. They would not let me down.

And then it happened. After a few more runs I realized that I was not in pain. Langes were known to provide unparalleled performance, at the cost of inflicting Medeival levels of pain on those who wore them.

Opening day ended, and I finally unbuckled the boots – not seeking pain relief, but because it was time to go home. Racing boots that performed like racing boots and fit like old friends straight out of the box. Didn’t think it was possible. How lucky can you get? Go Figure.

Win and the folks at Idlewild Ski Shop, or Scott and the crew at Guenthers Ski Shop can hook you up with Langes, or pretty much any other boots or shiny new ski goods you might want or need!

Whether or not you ski or ride – best wishes for your best season ever!

This Wanderlist hand-crafted at 1620 feet.