Leaving for Europe in the middle of a law school semester is wonderful. Coming back to law school after ten days in Europe is torture. After a long and painful week of reentry into the thick of the semester, I finally have a moment to breathe and collect some of my thoughts about our ski trip in Davos, Switzerland.
You could say I'm a bona fide city girl, one who prefers crowded streets and neon lights to silence, nature, and wide open spaces. Yet this past week in the Alps was so pleasant and stabilizing - perhaps even spiritual - that I've begun to rethink my preferences. The frenetic pace of New York City becomes second nature after a certain point, and one quickly forgets how fast everything is moving. A week's respite provides some perspective, and the idea of introducing some serenity into the daily routine doesn't seem as weak-willed as it once did. Then there was the skiing, an activity I've neglected in the past few years, but one that I was sorely missing. When you ski you have the opportunity to act fearlessly. Gliding down the side of a mountain, no matter how often or how well you do it, takes courage.
There was a day halfway into the trip when I found myself on a wide but steep piste - the European black diamond equivalent - at the edge of physical exhaustion. I had been practicing technique all day with my German pro skier friend who is not only incredibly skilled but also relentlessly demanding. "Bend your legs more! Stop being so lazy!" Now imagine someone yelling those words at you in a deep German accent. Also note that you feel additionally pathetic because he's yelling at you while skiing backwards down the mountain holding a camera perfectly steady so you can see how terrible your technique is later, naturally.
It was late in the afternoon, and given my imminent collapse, my friend finally agreed to take a lift to "the highway," an easy path that wound around the mountain and back home. But somehow we took the wrong lift across and ended up at the uppermost point where the only way home was "double black diamond." Staring down the steep face of the mountain glistening with ice patches and peppered with moguls, I felt a strange panicky fear - I was absolutely beyond the point where I could muster up enough concentration and physical strength to make it all the way down. Once I had regained my wits, I decided to plead with the lift operator. I reasoned that since there was hardly anyone on the mountain this late in the day, no one would notice if he allowed one lone skier a ride back down the mountain to safety. But Germans are rule-abiding to a fault, and I should have known his answer would be "NO. Non-negotiable." Flattery, flirtation, and Swiss-German-spoken persuasion were no match for his principles, nor was my diatribe on deontology, believe it or not.
I sat down at the edge of the precipice for a moment and tried to calm myself while the Swiss looked on with amusement and my friend paced in exasperation. My thoughts went from rescue helicopters to outright bribery to the possibility of piggy-back skiing, but I knew the only option was to ski down the thing myself. As my friend sped down the mountain like a graceful ballerina on skis and I jerkily navigated moguls and slid into ice patches, I cursed myself for getting so soft. Given an easier option, and there always was one, I would take it without fail. Where once I welcomed pain as a necessary prerequisite to development, there was, of late, total aversion. Perhaps my busy city life had masked the complete absence of boundary-pushing; somehow, it seemed, the daily work of living in NYC and trudging through law school had made me less sturdy.
I skied down the mountain that afternoon with many stops, a few painful tumbles, and a head full of self-directed anger. When I reached the bottom the sun had already set and the glühwein was gone, and after I watched the German's videos of my technique I swore off skiing for the rest of the season. But I was back on the slopes the next morning with stiff neck, sore arms, tender calves and bruised ego. It takes awhile to get used to that kind of discomfort, but I'm glad I did. To be fearless more often and to keep pushing on are the incredibly elementary but too soon forgotten lessons I learned (or perhaps re-learned) on the piste.