Time has a way, of putting broken pieces back in place, but never quite how you’d arrange. When something fades, often something better takes its place. I hope that’s true for us.– “The Other Side,” Jukebox the Ghost
I’ve been thinking a lot about the day everything changed. When it became clear there was going to be a before and an after, and we realized that we were suspended somewhere in between.
This isn’t a feeling reserved only for global pandemics – like you’re straddling a fault line that’s been ripped between your feet. The world pauses for a moment. Time expands like a rubber band pulled tighter, tighter, tighter. You see through the break in your world so clearly. And then the rubber band snaps.
On Thursday, March 12, 2020, I was in Banff, Alberta with some incredibly special people. We were skiing. (We did a lot of skiing.) We were hungover. (We did a lot of drinking.) We went in for an early lunch.
One minute, we were just a bunch of pals at a table in our ski boots. Helmet hair, wind-burnt cheeks, squeezing our fingers to warm our hands. And then our phones became portals to the end of the world.
Someone got a notification that the NFL was cancelling its season. Then the NBA. Then the Boston Marathon. Universities were cancelling classes. Companies were implementing remote work policies. Our companies were implementing remote work policies. The stock market was plummeting. Message after message bombarded our screens – it was all we could do to announce each new development to each other, unable to take our eyes off our windows to the chaos of home.
Eventually we peeled ourselves away from the news, dazed and dumbfounded, but alas – still on a breathtaking mountain. So let’s go ski, we decided.
I knew I had a problem as soon as we loaded the chairlift.
If you’ve never had a panic attack before – it can sometimes feel a little bit like shitting your pants. You have an idea that it’s coming, you have a finite window to seek cover, and then shit is happening. Ready or not.
We made it to the top of the lift and the rest of the group moved out. I reached my mitten out to my friend Rory’s arm. “Hey Rawr,” I said, “you know how I have… panic attacks… sometimes?”
Much like shitting your pants, having a panic attack in front of another person can feel scary and embarrassing. But they’ve never seen me shit my pants before, you might think. Will they think I should have made it to the bathroom by myself? Will they think I’m weak and silly? Have they ever seen ANYONE shit their pants before? All valid concerns.
But, as anyone who has shat themselves outside of the comfort of their own homes can tell you – it’s just better with a friend. If they are a good friend, they will laugh at you. And help you clean yourself up. And be kind to you so that you remember to be kind to yourself. And then maybe tell your other friends so they can laugh at you too.
At the top of one of the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever seen, my friend held me tight while the shitstorm passed. “We’re okay, we’re safe,” Rory said gently. My breathing came in ragged pulls as the whirling fear rolled through. “Thank you,” I croaked, “I just need to… to let it pass…”
“Of course,” Rawr said. “This is such a well-placed bench!” I cry-snorted, realizing that Rory had led me to sit on a two-person bench overlooking the dreamy runs we’d been skiing all week. (It really was a well-placed bench.)
We sat for a few minutes, or maybe a few years, looking out at the snow and the sun. The panic slowly loosened its iron grip on my chest. My hands shook, but my shoulders relaxed. I felt a bit dizzy. (These are the ways that I know the shitstorm is on its way out.) I exhaled and rested my helmet against Rawr’s. She gave me another tight squeeze.
“Everyone’s feeling it today,” Rory said. “It’s really scary.” And between our guesses on what the end of the world might look like, between thoughts on how we might make it through whatever awaited us at home, we took in where we were sitting. We are so lucky, we said. Our mantra for the week. It was still true. (It still is true.)
We left the well-placed bench and skied another run in the sprawling sunshine. Then another. We are here, I thought to myself. Somewhere between the before and the after. We are here.
On this big, wild mountain. Together.