Of course, we don’t know it’s the last time. It’s only in the future that we’ll look back and think that was the last time I hiked the six miles to the alpine lake or the last time I got together with friends at our favorite watering hole. During this pandemic, a restaurant that had become an institution in town closed permanently, and I think of the last time I had drinks and tapas there with friends—a place we had been hanging out at since we all worked together at the newspaper across the street (which also is no longer there), more than 30 years. It’s hard to imagine that a place that came to symbolize good times with good friends is gone forever.
When I first moved to Colorado, I learned how to downhill ski (back when lift tickets were $15 and lift lines were almost nonexistent), and for at least 30 years, it was one of the great pleasures of my life. I loved surveying the world from on top of the mountain, floating through the powdery snow and afterward enjoying a burger and beer as well as the pure pleasure of feeling physically exhausted.
But somewhere in my 50s, my knees started hurting, lift tickets became expensive, the ski runs and roads became crowded, and my skiing partner started to lose interest. If I wanted to continue, I would need to replace my old skis and boots, which were falling apart. But more than new equipment, I needed the old me, who was still flexible and strong, who could ski with abandon and no thoughts of mortality.
I started ice skating as a child when my family moved to the northern suburbs of Chicago. Like skiing, it was the closest I could come to flying, and when I moved to Colorado, I found lakes and ice rinks where I could flow across the ice, practicing the figure eight turns that my girlfriends and I did when we were young. That all ended a few years ago when I found out I had osteoporosis. Afraid that a fall would mean broken bones, I gave up ice skating.
I remember my father, in his 80s, telling me how much he missed riding a bike. But the man who taught me how to ride a bike wasn’t strong enough by then and could have easily lost his balance. I still ride my bike, but there are times when I feel wobbly, and once or twice I’ve fallen. Someday, I won’t be able to do it, but I don’t want to know that it’s my last time.
It’s hard to let go of the things we love because they are part of our identity and make life worth living. I did sell my ice skates to a resale shop, but my skis, boots and poles are still down in the basement. I’m not ready to let go, can’t quite give up the idea that, under the right circumstances, I could still push myself off from the top of the mountain and hurl my aging body down through miles of snow. Every time I look at the skis, I’m reminded that I need to make a decision, accept that I can’t do it anymore, and clear the space for something else. And still the skis sit there. I’m not ready to give up my illusions.