was 23 when I stood on the mountaintop resort in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. It was my first attempt at skiing and I was scared to bits. Just riding the lift was frightening and the thought of getting down on skis was worse.
But I held my own as I slipped off the chair lift and went gliding into the snow on my two skinny rails. I broke into a big smile. “Look at me” I said shouting to my friend. “Can you take my picture?”
With my arms raised high and my poles outstretched I thought of my mom back home. “Look at where I am!” I said to her in my mind. I was a long way from the cornfields of Ohio.
The memory was buried for a long time until it came racing back to me last week.
My friend Erica was in town from Buenos Ares and I suggested we go ice-skating in Bryant Park, where a seasonal rink operates in winter.
“I don’t think so,” said Erica. “I’ve only skated twice before, and it was a long time ago. I’d be too afraid to fall.”
But an hour later she’d changed her mind and we agreed to meet at the main entrance on 42nd Street and 6th Avenue.
After lacing up our skates we headed to the ice. She inched out gingerly, and then looked like she was about to fall. In fact, she was just reaching into the inner pocket of her coat to get her camera. “Take a picture of me!” she said excitedly, and handed me her tiny camera.
Struggling to stay on her skates, she held her arms out and beamed proudly. I knew the feeling. I was just about to click the shutter when the ice guard stopped me.
“You can’t take a picture on the ice,” he said. “No electronic devices allowed.”
I pretended I hadn’t heard him and tried to get the shot.
“Ma’am,” he repeated, his voice now lowered, “no electronic devices on the ice. If you’d like to take a photo, you need to stand outside on the perimeter. The ice rink is for skating.”
“Okay,” said. “I get it.” Obeying orders, I skated off the ice. Erica posed with the same pride, still visibly wobbling. I got the picture.
Though she gained confidence, her nervous gliding steps were the least of our worries.
Instead of people moving seamlessly around the rink with varying levels of effort and expertise, we found ourselves up against a traffic jam. Groups of people were clumped together arm in arm. “What’s going on,” I thought. “Why aren’t people moving?”
And then I heard a familiar voice.
“No electronic devices on the ice. Please keep moving.”
Now that he wasn’t talking to me, I got it.
People were gathering in bunches to get their pictures taken. The rink was a photo shoot.
Didn’t people come to skate? Why, I wondered, did everyone around me seem more interested in having a picture taken than in actually skating? I was on a path toward self-righteous indignation when my judgment suddenly stalled.
Instead, in every posed face I saw a familiar mix of pride and unabashed self-congratulation that I remembered from my 23-year-old self. They were all me and I was them.
For a moment I wasn’t in Bryant Park but in Lake Tahoe standing on a long ago mountaintop. The thought made me smile. All these years later I still wanted to tell my mom.