Saturday, February 15, 2014

Skating Backwards Into Life

Watching the Winter Olympics at Sochi, I have been struck by the fact that all jumps seem to be backwards
(turns out all are, with the exception of the Axel, which takes off from a forward position, but all jumps land with the skater skating backwards).

I wish someone could explain to me why this is so.  Google searches have led me nowhere.  There must be something about human physiology and the process of the jump which make the entrance and exit something best done backwards (indeed, the article I read on  Wikipedia says that the Axel – the only jump with a forward takeoff, is the most difficult of all the jumps).

Why?  I do not know.  Someone knows, but I don’t.

But it does leave one wondering about skating and about life.

“Count no man happy until the end is known,” Solon reputedly said to King Croesus.

Maybe it is in this sense that backwards is the best vantage point: that one’s degree of happiness cannot be truly known until the end of one’s life.  This, then, is the idea not so much of perspective as it is of the possibilities of change – while one may be happy now, that may well change on the proverbial dime, depending on what happens in one’s life right up to the end.

But I think it really is more about how life is actually lived, as opposed to how we make sense of it or tell it: life is often lived backwards, isn’t it?  Things happen from behind, both for good and for ill, that we never see coming as we’re focusing on another direction entirely, much like the skater jumping backwards.

The only difference is that the skater has intentionally developed the skill to fly into the life that is waiting behind rather than ahead of him.

That, I suspect, takes a kind of guts few of us are well-suited to, as we continually seek to look over our shoulder, trying to see what awaits around each corner, beyond each horizon.

I wonder what it would be like to approach life like a figure skater, confident that the arena in which I travel is a safe and well-bounded place . . . trusting that my backward flying feet will take me nowhere I’m not able to go . . . keeping my gaze fixed on the present and leaving the future into which I hurtle to itself.

I bet it’s magic.


  1. At times, life is all about simply hurtling ourselves into and through it. Hurtling because it is simply too painful to stop and think about what is. Hurtling because to stop means to know, to feel, to ache and so we simply leap forward for to stop could mean to never again leap at all.

    1. Powerful and heartbreaking observation.