Many people talk about giving the gift of experience to the point where the words have lost some momentum in recent years. The concept of experience gifts, however, came full circle for me this holiday season as a lifetime of experiences surfaced.
By reflecting on the flow of what I have given and received, it became clear to me giving is an important exchange I give a lot of energy to, not just during the holidays, but all year, every year, always. Because it takes a lot of time and effort to get it right, I sometimes build expectations of the recipient without even knowing it, and I end up giving and receiving without unconditional grace.
When I was 12, my parents decided they would no longer buy Christmas gifts for us. In place of gifts, we would go on a family ski trip between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Of course, there were always a few special things from Santa, but there was a legendary change in our holiday season.
At the Thanksgiving table we would start talking about where to ski, where to stay, what to cook, and projected snowfall. The excitement about our time together as a family slowly took over and that momentum became the framework for our holiday season. We had more to give to others because the burden was replaced with excitement. It was a visceral shift.
This year, our fifth Christmas since selling it all to wander the globe with our children, we wanted to honor my parents’ legacy. We are living in a small village, surrounded by big mountains in the Italian Alps.
Mom and dad, I know we are not together this Christmas but I hope the following words communicate that you are never far from our experience.
“Ski to me” my father would say, as he demonstrated the lesson of the day:
- Look up at where you want to go not down at where you are
- Pick your path and commit to it before you leave the gate
- Plant and then turn
- When you hit an icy patch, stay calm
- Let your skis carry you over the rough patches. You don’t have to force it.
- Watch the signs Mother Nature is giving you because she is ultimately in charge
- The best way to stay warm is to keep moving
- If you are still enough you can hear snow falling on cedars
- Be aware of who is around you because the mountain belongs to everyone – even snowboarders.
- Be prepared for all seasons
- Sometimes you have to ski uphill when you least expect it
- If you don’t fall down sometimes, you never learn how to brush yourself off
So I said the words to my children today … “Ski to me, ski to me, ski to me.
Grandpa’s here and so am I and I am telling you it is safe to try.”
“Ski to me” my father would say, when everything I knew went astray. Three simple words and the message was clear: stay calm, find a place of joy, appreciate what is working, focus on what you know, stay true to your path, don’t let the bumps throw you, and be aware of others.
Thank you, mom and dad, for a gift that keeps on giving and can never be lost or misplaced, taken away or devalued. As John Keats penned, “Nothing ever becomes real ’til it is experienced.”