by LJ Frank
A frosty late February day. It happened during my youth. The sky that day was a cloudless, cobalt blue. The northern shallow Michigan lake was cloaked in ice and surrounded by white pines, birches, and scattered narrow ribbons of shoreline.
The frozen lake had been skated on a few days earlier. The place where I planned to cross was over 100 meters in distance. Local people skated across the lake and back as if part of a winter ritual.
I carried my ice skates from the cabin where I was staying to a short wood dock. I took off my boots and slipped the skates on, surveyed the lake with its tree lined shores and launched ahead. The ice was smooth and clear with small piles of snow towards the opposite shore.
More than halfway across I felt a westerly breeze sweep across the frozen water. It was then I heard a cracking sound. The ice covered about eight to ten feet of water below at that point. With each meter I skated the ice splintered here and there. I could feel my heartbeat below my winter jacket. The ice continued to splinter. I couldn’t turm back. I was alone. No matter where I looked the shore appeared deserted. My breathing became heavy. I passed the deepest part of the lake which was over 25 feet. It doesn’t take much to drown in icy water regardless of depth. The ice stopped splintering then started up again. It looked like a map filled with detours scratched on it. I dare not slow down. What looks frozen can be a miscue of what’s happening underneath. Too late to question why I was there, ritual or not. The ice had thinned quicker on the side I was skating towards; heat can work what appears to be magic.
As I approached the shoreline the ice started to break. My heart pounded against my chest. I saw a young boy emerge from the woods, wave at me, and point in another direction. I changed course; my eyes had watered from the breeze that was now picking up speed and blowing snow into the shape of whirlwinds dancing across the ice.
Things happen quickly. As I approached the shore where the boy pointed to it seemed that time slowed when I made a leap in the air towards the snow-covered narrow beach. My skate covered feet landed in several inches of water entangled in reeds and sinking into the sandy bottom.
Karma. I was fortunate. I climbed ashore after a bit of struggle. Cold, wet, and breathing. I looked towards where the boy stood, but he had vanished, apparently into the woods. I headed around the edge of the lake and made my way back to the cabin where I was staying. Numbness takes time to heal. Midway in my hike I took off my skates and socks and thrust my large waterproof gloves into the ice skates and put them back on. Tied the skate strings up as best I could and resumed my hike, careful of where I was stepping. I felt pain. That was good I thought.
The whirlwinds of snow increased in tempo – surreal against the blue heavens. I briefly lost sight of the cabin. How much time do I have? How many minutes, hours, weeks, months, and years remain? How shall I spend that time? The snow was icy, wet, and blinding. Still, I made it back to the cabin.
I don’t know about life after death. I have seen too many dead bodies, emaciated bodies, and skeletons. Belief and faith have no scientific basis. That’s why they are called belief, faith, and perhaps wishful thinking. Reincarnation or some form of physical or spiritual resurrection – ideas filled with longing, passion, and compassion. We leave behind our words, music, art, architecture, beliefs, science, ravages of war and hate, poetry of love, prayers and more. We are here, then we are not here. We see, smell and experience that which afterwards we cannot unsee, un-smell or un-experience. We write our own memoirs of experience, each day. How shall we edit our days for the sake of our children and each other?
Like a character out of a Charles Dickens novel, “a passing gesture, an image, or mood, can form a whole network of meaning…the coincidence, the chance remark, the unexpected meeting, can change a human being…the significance of a whole lifetime of endeavor can be altered by the sudden confusion of events.” (Ackroyd, Peter. Charles Dickens)
I don’t seek to rule anything or anyone, other than myself. The humanness and humility of existence is not revealed in one’s wealth, number of toys, residential address or title, power, or control of others…one’s humanity is revealed in the ability to rule thyself. Our gender, skin tones, language, philosophies, tolerances, intolerances, and faiths vary but the human conscience reveals our true self as we skate across the thin ice of our existence.