"I've Gotta Be Me"
(With thanks to the inimitable Sammy Davis, Jr., and songwriter Walter Marks)
Cold mountain air clarifies things.
Especially when you’re traveling 30 mph.
On the back of a snowmobile.
Mr. Pettit and I have been snowmobiling (“sledding” as the regulars call it) since 1994. We’ve ridden through the Rocky Mountains, the Bighorn Mountains, the Black Hills and Yellowstone National Park. Last week we visited West Yellowstone, Montana, for the fourth time. We took two guided tours through the national park and one up to Two Top Mountain in Idaho. (If you’re interested in sledding, here’s our preferred tour company.)
For half of our sledding history I drove one sled with one son while Mr. Pettit drove with the other. Once our boys were old enough to drive their own machines I started sharing a sled with my husband, since I always preferred gawking at the scenery to focusing on the trails.
And there’s where our story begins.
It’s always interesting to see who shows up for a day of sledding. When we went to breakfast each morning at Three Bear Lodge in West Yellowstone we’d guess what kind of day each table was planning. The two big tables filled with, uh, “people of a certain age”? Definitely snowcoaches (specially equipped vans) into the park, probably a photographic excursion. The couple at the table in the middle of the room? More than likely on a tour. Those five guys in a corner booth, ranging from 20-something to middle-age? God bless ‘em—-I could only pray no one shouted out, “Watch this!” just before hurtling off a mountainside.
On days one and two of our visit I noticed that most women, including a few I guessed were older than me, opted to drive their own sleds. This fact would be completely superfluous if I were not weird.
But I am.
By the end of day two I was convinced that I was a slacker, maybe even a loser, for not driving my own sled. Of course, no one came even within a mile (or a thousand) of saying such a thing. But my brain got hold of the idea and chewed it like a honey badger gnawing on a cobra.
And so I lay in bed that night talking to God about my passenger inferiority complex. The only explanation that came to me was that the whole thing was yet another manifestation of my perfectionism, something along the lines of, “If I were perfect I’d insist on driving my own machine.” I’d be a real sledder. Never mind that I had driven in the past. That didn’t count.
As is usually the case, I didn’t know what to do with myself. So I asked the Creator to make Himself known out on the trail the next day, as we headed back into Yellowstone National Park for one last visit. (Yes, I recognize that He had no doubt made Himself known countless times during our trip, but I’m kind of dense sometimes and flashing neon signs are required.)
The ambient temperature was a balmy 24°F as we rode into the park for our tour, 39 degrees warmer than the morning before. I didn’t know if that were a neon sign, but I took it as a good one.
Our first stop was a turnout beside the Madison River. Two days earlier, our group had passed some swans gliding along on the water, oblivious to the cold. I longed to stop and watch them. (And take pictures, of course.)
So what did we see at that first stop on day 3? Swans. At least six, along with their dark-feathered babies.
A few miles down the road I spotted a bald eagle flying to the top of a dead tree. I’ve joked that all the eagles in Yellowstone are animatronic, since the ones we’ve seen have never flown.
Thank You again.
Sometimes neon signs are made of feathers.
As we zipped along on our way to Old Faithful I realized that a swan doesn’t strive to soar like an eagle, just as an eagle doesn’t crane his neck trying to be a swan. Each is content with its God-given nature.
So why not me?
God wants me to be the best version of myself, but the critical word is “myself.” Sure, I can try new things—-I must try new things if I don’t want to become a turtle, retreating further and further into my shell until the world shrinks to Rita proportions.
It’s okay if I’m not good at everything and if I don’t like everything. I tried Brussels sprouts. I will never touch another. I tried them and now I can move on.
I don’t know if I’m an eagle or a swan or a mallard. But maybe the important thing is to keep flying.