A Journey, Off-Piste

When we had our first child, we had our lives all planned out. My wife had just finished her 2nd year of medical school. I was a young computer scientist, at the beginning of my career. She worked to excel in her studies. I worked to support the household. And we worked together to create a successful life. The future looked bright.

Naturally, we had the birth planned out too. The doctor told us what to expect. We arrived on time and inducing labor worked exactly like he said it would. My wife grunted and groaned until the meds arrived, right on schedule. It was just like the movies.

But, as Granny Fern used to say, “Life’s what happens while you’re making plans.” And she was right. When our daughter’s head crowned, there was something the doctor didn’t expect. And, when the team of specialists charged into the room, there were complications they hadn’t foreseen. And, when they took my daughter to the ICU, instead of placing her in my wife’s arms … well, that wasn’t part of the plans either.

There’s a word I just learned, ‘off-piste.’ My father-in-law found this word on Christmas day. He was relaxing on the couch. It was that nice, quite period, after the presents had been opened and before dinner was served. My wife and I were prepping the meal, and he was browsing through my dictionary (a present from my wife). He called out, “here’s a word you’ll like!”

‘Off-piste’, he explained, ‘is when you go skiing off the groomed trail.’  It’s used by skiers, but it’s the perfect word to describe how I snowboard. Every chance I get, I head into the woods. I slide off the trail, dodging between the trees, pushing myself to the limits. Sometimes, I discover a little glade – a serene place where no one’s been. The terrain is untouched and there’s fresh powder all around me. The snow hangs softly on the tree limbs and the land opens up into soft rolling hills, glittering like diamonds. The only sounds are the soft whoosh of the board and the wind rushing by. It’s perfection.

That’s going off-piste and those moments are rare. But, it’s not what I thought of when my father-in-law read the definition. It was Christmas and I was focused on my family, not snowboarding. I thought of the life that my wife and I have built together. We planned to stay on the groomed trail, like everyone else, but that’s not where our journey led us.

It’s like that old story. You know the one where a young mother takes a trip to Italy. She’s planned for it her whole life. But when the plane lands, the stewardess says, ‘Welcome to Holland.’ Holland is not where she planned to be, but it’s where she must stay.

My wife and I ended up in Holland too. It was not a part of our plans, but we learned to improvise. Even now, sixteen years later, we still take it one day at a time. There’s no script, it’s not a movie, and we don’t know where we’re going. And yet, my wife says everything is exactly as it should be.

‘Life is a journey, not a destination,’ she reminds me. She’s wise like her Granny Fern. We started with a plan, but life happened instead. And it turned out to be the most incredible journey I could ever imagine. When I’m snowboarding, I’m lucky to find a secret glade off the groomed trail. But, in my life? Every day is off-piste.

And, you know what? I wouldn’t change a single thing. I wouldn’t trade my journey for the world. It’s off-piste and it’s perfect.

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