Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sharing a Chairlift With Shirley

Her name was Shirley.
It was the winter of 1982. I'd paid the $19 standby fare on Texas Air to travel from Austin to El Paso, and another $17 to ride a bus from El Paso to Ruidoso, New Mexico on a solo snow skiing trip.
The weekend passed, and the Monday crowd was light. After my third run, she stood in the line for the chairlift, like she was waiting for me. "I'm Shirley. Would you like to join me?" I did.
It was the longest lift on the mountain, and we rode it together three times. I learned that she was a 62 year-old retired teacher, had learned to ski at the age of 59, and was full of advice about traveling on a budget. On the second, I learned that she had married the love of her life right after college. His name was Joe. They were married three years when Joseph Jr. was born.
Joe died in a car accident when Joe Jr. was but two years old. Shirley raised little Joe as a single mom, with help from her parents. She never remarried. Little Joe was her life.
Joe had grown up and become a teacher himself. Shirley was so proud of him that her eyes lit up every time she said his name.
On the third ride up the chairlift, she said something that I've carried with me since.
"People nowadays are more concerned with being happy than being good. I wish they would remember that the path to being good sometimes means choosing being good over being happy."
Over the years, I've kept Shirley's parting thought in mind, and I've tried to live by it. Sometimes I've succeeded; too often I've failed.
Shirley and I parted ways after that third run down the mountain. She told me that I reminded her too much of her husband. We didn't exchange addresses or phone numbers.
And, for thirty-three years, I've treasured a friendship made during three rides upon a chairlift.


Kelly said...

You don't post here often, but when you do, it's a real zinger.

Thanks for sharing this story, Hal.

Bob said...

What Kelly said. And I love those 1982 prices.

People come into our lives for a reason. Shirley served a real purpose in yours.

Love that name Shirley -- my mother's name.