N A RECENT MILD WINTER DAY, I WAS LOOKING WITH LONGING AT MY SKIS—stored in the rafters of the shed and covered with the dust of more than a year’s nonuse—and my mind returned to that final run a few years ago. It was the Adventist Winterfest at Colorado’s Copper Mountain, a delightful annual event of fellowship, worship, and recreation in the beauty of the Rockies.
For those not acquainted with skiing lingo, “final run” is that last trip up the mountain just before the ski lift closes. Ideally, you want to be on the last chair to leave the station just as the lift operator closes the gate for the evening. That way, on the final run down the slope, all the trails behind you are clear of other skiers, and you can drift lazily down in splendid isolation, feasting your senses on the beauty of the mountain scenery in silence—the sky, the snow, the forest. It is truly a winter wonderland.
Harold was on just such a final run. Although I never really knew him—he was not part of our group, and we met only that one time—yet I knew just what he was doing and enjoying. I say “we met,” but that needs some explanation, as he was never aware of our meeting.
I had finished my final run, and as I glanced up the mountain I saw Harold coming down a steep slope—and he was moving fast. Suddenly, he pitched forward in a headlong dive. After multiple flips and flops, which separated him from most of his ski equipment, he came to rest in full view of the ski patrol crew at the base of the run. There he lay—still, unmoving. It was only moments until rescue personnel were dashing up the slope.
I watched with dread as the rescuers opened Harold’s jacket and began administering CPR. That was not a good sign. Shortly, a snowmobile arrived with a sled in tow, and while continuing the CPR the rescuers loaded him onto the sled and headed down to the base, where an ambulance was now arriving.
That was when I first met Harold. But he didn’t meet me. By the time I arrived, his skin had already turned a dark reddish-blue. He was not breathing; there were no vital signs of life. Indeed, it had been his final run—although not in the sense he had anticipated when he began that beautiful day. Apparently, the pitch forward on the slope was the result of a massive heart attack. He was gone even before he hit the snow.
Harold looked to be a man in his mid-40s. Awfully young, I thought, for that kind of final run.
The issue of the final run kept turning in my head well into the night, and in the long hours of contemplation, it began to come clear: the final run was not how each of us might die, but how we live. I know nothing of how Harold lived outside of that ski trip; yet I surmised because of the vigor with which he attacked the final run that he was enjoying what he was doing. I know nothing of his family, nothing of his work or spiritual life, but his influence on me was profound.
Now as I look at my skis I’m reminded to live for the present moment in such a way as to bless my family, community, church, and most of all, my God, in gratitude for the privilege of a life to be lived well. Then when the day of my final run on this earth comes, it will be final only for the moment. For in God’s plan there is no final run, but rather an eternity in which to live in His saving grace.
Gary Patterson is a retired church pastor and administrator who worked many years for the General Conference. He now lives in Luray, Virginia. This article was printed December 17, 2009.