Rogers: At the root of Easter stories
I fell and sprung a knee and instantly understood that my summer would not include waiting in the windy open door of a well-dented Twin Otter circling, circling over a smoke plume while the spotter hunted for the best place and moment for me to leap, static line trailing.
Instead pain and shock blossomed. I hollered and held my knee in a sawdust pit where we had been practicing aircraft exits.
My season was over. I knew that much right away.
It would be a while yet before realizing I’d never fight another fire, though I’d later report on a few. So yeah, the career I had counted on and built through my 20s was gone, too.
All my plans and hopes ended right there. My life was over, at 29. Everything I’d worked for to that point, anticipating a season or two of smokejumping before moving on to the next career phase, maybe municipal, maybe sticking with the Forest Service.
Anything but this dead end in a Redding sawdust pit, betrayed by a blown knee. You know, abstractly, that these things happen, but never to you. God or fate let me down. A good deal of the shock was that.
ACL surgery wasn’t then what it is now, though I’m not sure why I passed that up. Instead I rode my bike when the swelling subsided enough to turn the crank. I rode all over the Sierra foothills most of my days, and in a few weeks the knee felt solid or solid enough, anyway.
I went back to the jump base, caught up with some friends I’d made on the crew, stepped into the head guy’s office. I told him how I’d been rehabbing, how I’d noticed how many others had washed out, how I was ready to resume, how I was in shape, strong and willing, good to go. I thought I was convincing.
He heard me out, then smiled — sadly, it seemed to me.
“Son,” he said. “I’ve got enough veterans who are cripples. I’m not going to take on a rookie already …”
Another supervisor called me over as I left. “I know this might seem like about the worst thing ever to happen to you,” he said, reading me. “But it could turn out to be the best.”
He was right, and I’ve paid forward that advice a few times over the years since in my new life.
The most extreme tale of this type is Christ’s, of course: a triumphant entrance, then laid low by a fall, in his case betrayal, abandonment, ridicule, crucifixion and a cold body entombed. Takes great faith to buy it as real, and so a great faith was born. As origin stories go, this one easily is the tightest, most dramatic and best.
The myth of the phoenix is an earlier version of this root narrative, and recurring, as I suspect the Big Bang would prove out as another expression of epic rise and fall and new life if our science could plumb that far. A variant of the Hero’s Journey tracks as an Easter story, as well.
Not every novel, but I’d say all memoir is an Easter story at heart. The form seems embedded in us, and we respond instinctually.
An Easter story doesn’t have to bear extra gravity in redemption, or salvation through forgiveness, often more reckoning than happy ending. And certainly there are worse betrayals than knees, more profound resurrections than new career paths. But something in the pattern holds true just the same, that thread common to all of these stories and essential to our lives as we live them.
That would be hope.
Aspen Times Editor Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org