Nevertheless, I pushed through my gloom, with great trepidation, eyed the Nordic skates I hadn’t worn in four years, and put hand warmers in my mittens.
Lake Morey—which is the largest outdoor skating rink in the U.S. of A.—right here in the Upper Valley, sparkled under bright sunshine, occasionally giving off deep ominous cracking explosions. Though I had learned from previous years of skating on the lake that these were benign, they were still frightening, particularly if you were not in reach of the shore. But I knew the lake. I had skated around it dozens of times in all kinds of weather, through headwinds and, magically, with tailwinds at my back, an experience as close to flying as I had ever had.
That day the shore near the Lake Morey Hotel was crowded with people of all ages and there was a kinetic energy and a heady joyfulness in the air. I cheered up. I sat down on a bench and tried to get my skate blades to clip into my boots, failing entirely. Defeated, I sighed: it will be a short adventure today, I said to myself. Then the woman seated next to me on the bench leaned over and confided, “It took me twenty minutes to get mine on—let me help you.” And she did, joined by her friend who also claimed to have had enormous trouble getting her skates on.
Exposed to all this friendliness, I took—as I felt—my life in my hands and stood up. Four years is a long time not to have been on skates and I felt like a one year old, just learning how to walk. I slid slowly and very unsteadily across a few feet of ice. I was tentative, unbalanced and awkward. What, I thought, made me think I could still do this?
But I pushed on, and slowly I found my center, my balance, my rhythm. I was no Sonja Henie but I began to slide, I began to glide, I skated away from the crowded shoreline and sailed up a wide clear avenue of ice, not entirely gracefully, but steadily enough to pass others. I was just hitting my first stride when the ice folded and crinkled and graveled under me. It was a very rough patch; I had noticed the skater ahead of me struggling but assumed he was just a beginner having trouble. But now I realized this patch of ice, very long and wide, would be difficult for anyone. I was moving slowly, sometimes just trying to walk over the crenellated ice, sometimes pushing a glide for a short rocky distance, when I fell. One of my blades, probably knocked loose by the rough ice, had come off. Gingerly I got up, maneuvered over the jagged ice field on one skate and retrieved the escaped blade. There was a low bank of snow created by the Zamboni and I limped over to it and attempted to secure my skate. No luck. I was about a third up one side of the lake and few other skaters had ventured that far. But just then a man came along, gliding slowly past me. He stopped and looked back. “I’m fine,” I said. “Please just go on.” He gave me a skeptical look, made his way over, and kneeled down in front of me, reaching for my foot. And I just could not help myself: I remembered an illustration in my daughter’s Cinderella book, showing the prince kneeling down to try the glass slipper on Cinderella. “Please,” I said, embarrassed, I’ll be fine.” And I was: after he had attached my skate to my boot and glided away, waving off my thanks.
I was so enchanted by this experience that I sailed over the next third of the lake, regaining balance and grace. And I began to notice something: the few skaters out this far were better than I was. And when they came to rough patches—of which there were many—they hardly changed their pace at all. They pushed through, retaining the balance and momentum which I lost by slowing down so much. They crossed the rough patches faster and more steadily than I did. And so I tried it. It was difficult, like skating over wash boards, but over in seconds rather than long minutes.
But now I had circled the lake, had the wind at my back, and had cruised smoothly into the crowd at the hotel. And I was smiling.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Skating on thin ice: sometimes a metaphor is too good to pass up.
Sometimes life sends you rough patches.
Sometimes pushing through is the only way.
Sometimes thin ice is the only platform you have. And that’s O.K. Because, after all, thin as it is, it prevents you from drowning.