Monday, February 10, 2014

The parable of the skater

Image credit: <a href=''>khamidulin / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
When Stephen was a kid he always wished he knew how to ice skate. There was something about the faces of the kids out on the ice. They seemed so full of joy. Sometimes the skaters raced around the rink. At other times they glided slowly and silently as if pondering something weighty.

But not Stephen. He sat in the bleachers with a couple of other kids who were equally frightened at the prospect of defying physics by placing the full weight of a human body on a couple of sharpened steel rails a few millimeters wide.

Most of the time the skaters were oblivious to the bleacher-bound crowd. They were skaters, after all. If you had to ask, then you obviously wouldn't understand. Stephen used to think, "If I knew how to skate, I would never be like them. I would teach other non-skaters how to lace up their skates and conquer their fears." And that's how life was for Stephen. Year after year. Outside looking in.

And then one day Stephen conquered his own fears. He noticed a pair of skates lying in the bleachers, left behind by someone who must have hurried out and forgotten them. He tried them on. They fit.

His first steps onto the ice were tentative. Comical even. He held tightly to the rail, struggling to keep his ankles from turning in and then out and then in again.

Occasionally someone would slow down and offer him some advice, but mostly he just mimicked what he saw the other skaters doing. He eventually let go of the rail and soon he was vertical more than horizontal. He was doing it. He was skating.

He left the rink that day a changed person. Having carefully tucked the borrowed skates beneath the bleacher where he found them - he wasn't a thief after all - his first stop was at a sporting goods store to buy a pair of his own. That night at home he stayed up late watching how-to-skate videos on YouTube. He weekly trips to the rink took on new purpose as he tried out what he was learning. Slowly, he became a skater.

He immersed himself in the culture. He studied skating. It's origins and history. The various forms. Hockey with its frenetic pace and violent collisions. Figure skating with its precision and attention to detail. The artistry of ice dancing. He loved them all. Each was different, but all had the blade and the ice. Water formed from steel encountering ice, creating a microscopic layer of frictionless freedom.

Finding other enthusiasts like himself, he joined a skating club. They talked about skating. They argued over their favorite professional skaters. They traveled to other rinks and met other enthusiasts. He got involved with YES - Young Energetic Skaters - at his home rink - a program designed to teach the children of the club's skaters so their craft was passed on from one generation to the next.

Before long Stephen was thoroughly, passionately, hopelessly immersed in the world of skating.

So much so that he never noticed the guy just on the other side of the glass.

Sitting alone on the bleachers.

Wishing he knew how to skate.

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