The alarm cuts the cold, dark air. It’s 4:30 a.m. As I snatch the phone from the bedside table and turn off the noise, I ask myself: Why am I doing this?
It’s Saturday, after all. I spent the previous five days jumping out of bed at 6 a.m. to coax my children from their comforters and repeatedly ask them to brush their teeth and get their shoes on before dropping them off at school and rushing through the workday until it’s time to do it all again. By Saturday, all I want to do is sleep in.
But skiing is my favorite thing to do. And doing it requires leaving our house in Denver by 5 a.m. on the weekends. If we leave later, we’re likely to get stuck in a traffic jam between two circles of Dante’s hell. So I grab my Thermos and usher my sleepy eight-year-old son out the door, reminding myself that leaving now will be well worth it once we’re carving turns on the Continental Divide.
We slide into our car seats and into the quiet pre-dawn twilight we go. My son dozes as we climb in altitude, and I contemplate the value of short-term sacrifice for long-term gain. My kids have precious few lessons in delaying gratification. Their questions are answered in seconds by Google, their hunger is relieved in minutes by grocery delivery and the photos they snap with my phone appear instantly.
As a kid, I complained about digging through library encyclopedias to find a fact. But I enjoyed the feeling of the paper and the musty smell of the pages. I liked browsing in music and book stores, discovering one artist in the search for another and striking up conversations while waiting to pay.
Driving through the mountains at 5 a.m., while the world is quiet, feels like a rare pause in our fast-motion life. A space that gives everything around it meaning and holds meaning itself.
Above our car, the sun breaks over the ridge and throws rays over the Rockies. I glance in the rearview mirror to tell my son, but he’s still sleeping peacefully, thick eyelashes closed against his cheeks and knees tucked into his chest. I marvel at the purplish-black sky and the sunlight that’s turning it blue — sunlight that has never before touched these hillsides.
My son stirs as I pull into the empty parking lot and stop by the chairlift, the first car to arrive. The full moon is still visible over the granite cliffs above us. My son climbs into the front seat, hands me his heavy “Harry Potter” book to read, and settles in beside me to listen to the story while we wait for the lodge to open. As I crack the book and find our place, I think that, sometimes, short-term sacrifice for long-term gain isn’t sacrifice at all.