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Guilt

A few years ago, one of my best friends was caught in an avalanche somewhere north of here. The avalanche was triggered from above – another skier on the slope – and as the Leviathan roared down, he pushed another skier out of the way toward safety…and suffered the onslaught of the avalanche. Deep within the stomach of the whale, he pulled the trigger on the avalanche airbag. “It was like the hand of God that pulled me up toward the surface and I survived.” He’s the only person I know that has had two very different experiences with an airbag. The first decision was as described. The second – he reached for the handle of the airbag – but held off…and fought like hell, pushing the hard slab blocks to the side. He felt that had he pulled the handle, the balloons and increased surface area would have pulled himwith the slide and into the crevasse below. When you pull the handle, in effect, you’re giving in to the ride and the mistake you’ve made. But that’s another story and argument altogether.

In his book The Crossing, Cormac McCarthy writes, “Men spared their lives in great disasters often feel in their deliverance the workings of fate. The hand of Providence…For what he was asked now to reckon with was that he’d been called forth twice out of the ashes, out of the dust and rubble. For what? You must not suppose such elections to be happy ones for they are not.

Last week he was buried again. Completely. Full burial. He said that he was only frightened for a moment, followed by an understanding and calm that one must only feel when death is at the doorstep. More than anything, he felt guilt. He thought of his fiancée and unborn child. He thought of his friends and family and the guilt of having let them down. When they pulled him out of the snow, he was not breathing. This was last week. It has taken him days and torturous nights to call his loved ones and friends and tell them “I’m sorry.”

This was not just the second avalanche he has been involved in, either. He must be Unbreakable. I thought about Coombs. And Saari. Seth Shaw and Alex Lowe. Bryce Astle, Craig Patterson and many others. We loved them all. And…well, truth be told,I’ve had my share of scrapes as well.

But for now, I look forward to his wedding day. I look forward to watching him raise and tease his own children. And then years later- but not now – him finally passing on into the next life well after the sunset has smoldered into ash.

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