Old year akin to downhill slide First skiing trip brings more than a few falls, reminders of recent history

Posted: Sunday, January 06, 2002

On Tuesday, at the stroke of midnight, we crossed the threshold into a new year and sealed the window shut on the year 2001. On New Year's Day, I found myself trying to ski for my first time at Alyeska in Girdwood. Feeling the bravado bolstered by my compatriots, I opted to bypass the "bunny" hill beginner's lessons and throw myself into the fire. Why not? What did I have to lose?

Altogether, the experience was fun, in spite of the many bumps and bruises I accumulated on the day. But as I took those first steps off the chair lift to start my first run, I began to think how similar the skiing adventure was to the previous year: from beginning to end, both were all downhill slides.

As soon as my skis left the ground on the way up the lift, I started having second thoughts. Likewise, the presidential election of 2000 left everyone with questions, doubts and uncertainty. As the United States entered into the first year of the new millennium, we were split over who was to be our new leader. Alleged vote tampering, disenfranchised voters and what can only be described as "funny math" (George W. Bush's word to describe Al Gore's proposed budget figures) left the decision on our next president to the majority right-wing Supreme Court.

In the meantime, the nation's economy, anchored by plunging technology stocks, was struggling to keep its nose above water. California was still reeling from rolling blackouts, and gas prices were peaking high above the $2 mark in the Midwest regions of the country. Heck of a beginning, huh?

I hit the slopes and began with my first fall. No big deal. It happens to the best of us. Like Bill Clinton's failed last-ditch attempts at striking a peace plan between Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, you can't win them all. What could have been a swan song for the Clinton administration turned into a disappointing last stand.

I got the skiing basics down real quick and was moving along smoothly. Little stumbles and bumps here and there. But nothing major.

Nothing major describes the inauguration of the new commander-in-chief. Bush's initial approval rating wasn't the greatest, and the difficult confirmation of his choice for attorney general, John Ashcroft, didn't help. Here a bump, there a bump.

A critical moment for me came in the day when, what began as a clean run ended with me catching big air and landing hard into some trees. I managed to grab onto a tree root protruding from the snow and slow myself down, just before slamming into another, bigger root. Ow.

But it didn't hurt near as much as watching Dale Earnhardt's No. 3 car slam into a wall on his final lap at Daytona Motor Speedway. I walked away from my crash with some swelling and pain in my right thumb. Earnhardt, however, did not walk away.

I recovered from that setback and found success. The moment of truth came when I completed an entire run, flawlessly. Just as in midsummer, when letters arrived from the Internal Revenue Service announcing an additional refund from a successful tax surplus. In both cases, I was excited. Extra money -- from the government -- is always a good thing. And making it from the top of a hill to the bottom without a hitch on the first day was something to be pleased with, as well.

I became a little too content with my accomplishment and moved up to the next level of difficulty. Maybe too early. After getting paid off from the IRS, our nation became a little too complacent.

Who knew what lay ahead? For me, it was a set of tumbling, skidding, crashing mishaps that resulted in strained ligaments in my knee, as my leg went one direction during the fall and the rest of me went another. For America, however, the tragic turn of events constituted far more than a few hyper-extended limbs.

Sept. 11, was a day that would live on beyond the infamy Franklin Roosevelt attributed to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Terror -- two hijacked planes slamming into New York City's World Trade Center, another crashing into the side of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a fourth going down in the Pennsylvania countryside before ever reaching its mark -- caught us completely off guard and left the nation staggered, sullied and worn.

From that moment, nothing seemed to go right. It was a snowball effect. Thousand of people were killed. The nation's fragile economy, struggling for stability, teetered toward recession. The Federal Reserve Board had lowered interest rates a record 11 times by year's end to salvage spending. Leisure travel slowed to a halt. Workers were laid off. People began to suspect the worst of their neighbors. Our communities were shrouded in fear.

When the day of skiing was over, and I'd taken my last fall, I sat in the snow and looked where I'd fallen from. And I realized that I had nowhere to go from there but up. Next time would be better. So, too, was the case with our nation at the end of the tumultuous year 2001. One year ago, we were divided along party lines over candidates who split victories in the popular votes and the Electoral College. Now we stand united, working against a common foe.

The U.S. is healing the many wounds, big and small, of the year 2001. In this new year we will recover from the many adversities we faced in the past year -- the cutting eyes and killing hatefulness poet Maya Angelou spoke of -- and rise, "like the air."

As for my right thumb and my bum ligaments? They'll heal in time. But for now, that's a great excuse to keep a cold beer in my hand. Or resting on my knee.

Marcus Garner is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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