Grand Return

January 14, 2019

In December at Sun Peaks Mountain near Kamloops, where I spend time with my family during the winter holiday, I stood at the crest of the ski run “Grand Return” with a sense of wonder. This was my second day of skiing, which was amazing to me because last year I was too sick to ski even once. It had been like that every winter for almost three decades; I intermittently managed to gear up and drag myself out on the slopes for half a day during those trips to the mountain, one of my countless forms of heroic effort to act like a healthy person while internal chaos raged on.

On this day I felt triumphant. Though admitting the expected thigh burn and backache that comes from the season’s breaking in of unrehearsed skier’s legs, I basked in spontaneous appreciation for the taste of high mountain air. There was uninterrupted pleasure in the beauty of snowed-in trees and the skillful navigation of my route down the trail. Everything: brisk and white and free of agony. Before, I could only attempt to manufacture appreciation and pleasure while longing at each turn to lie down again, to engage with the customary ritual of begging my pillow and my medicine cabinet to help me bear the next moment.

This day was a symbol of my own Grand Return.

It’s a very prophetic idea, the Grand Return. As I stood atop the mountain, seeing the name gave rise in my mind to the old adage of having been “to hell and back.” Of course, one can never go back as life only moves forward, ever forward. But one of the most meaningful aspects of chronic disease recovery is the return of one’s ability to accomplish and enjoy everyday activities. They just happen. You can smile with them and learn from them, without the momentous weight you carry as your vital energy is consumed in managing the most basic physiologically generated necessities of survival—which have somehow gone haywire.

There’s a childlike feeling that comes upon me in moments like this. Ski! Play! Grow! If I had to take a long sojourn in hell to have a chance to play in my childlike feelings for the rest of my life, then hell had its rightful place in my Grand Scheme of Things.