Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Skating in the Light

Gretta at USFSA - 1998 Adult Nationals
photo by Wendi Collins

Skating in the Light
by Gregory E. Larson

Preface: I give a special ‘thank you’ to artist and adult skater Wendi Collins for giving me permission to use the photos in which she captured Gretta preparing to compete in the 1998 United States Figure Skating Association - Adult Nationals in Oakland, California.

          In the aftermath of Gretta’s death and funeral, the sympathy cards covered the dining room table. All were special to me. I read them over and over many times. It was evident that Gretta had made a deep impression on the lives of so many people. The cards and letters included heartfelt memories of times together, pictures, artwork, and personal observations about her friendliness and strong character.

          One of the cards, from Wendi Collins, included black and white photos of Gretta, taken in 1998 at the Adult Nationals figure skating competition in Oakland, California. It was her second national competition and she placed first and second in her two events. The pictures were of Gretta preparing and waiting to go out on the ice to perform. They had an artistic flair of dark and light, with Gretta in unassuming poses while she tightened the laces on her skates or while she stood at rink-side. 

Gretta preparing to go out on the ice
photo by Wendi Collins
          I couldn’t quite put my finger on why the photos were different, but I kept going back to look at them. Part of the fascination was their realism. It seemed as if I could reach out and touch her cheek. I sensed she was focused on making sure her mind, body, and spirit were ready.
          One day, I pulled out the black and white pictures, to ponder each one and give them a closer look. I sat down with a cup of afternoon coffee, or kaffestunde, as Gretta had called it. The late afternoon break had become my grieving ritual, a private time to think about all the happy times we shared and how much I appreciated being with her. As I looked at the photos, a metaphor began to take shape in my mind, with the skating rink as heaven, and the sideline-bench area as earth.

          I looked at Gretta standing by the bench near the rink. Her head, with that giant, signature smile of hers, was turned back towards Wendi’s camera. Oh, that smile. It had refreshed me countless times, whenever I returned home from work or an errand. It was a magnetic attraction. When I fell in love, I told myself I wanted to be around that smile as I grew old.  
Gretta showed no fear
photo by Wendi Collins
          If she had any fear of going out on the ice, her smile and state of mind were her weapons to fight off the trepidation – something I saw in the months and weeks before she succumbed to cancer. In the photo, it was apparent that she had prepared to go out and perform on the rink, just as she had prepared herself for the unknown during her final days. 

          I touched the edges of the photo and noticed that the bright lights of the rink had washed out the background. It reminded me of how much fun I had going to the competitions in the dark of winter. The light on the ice was always a magical spectacle to me, a place where the skater’s sequins sparkled as they spun their magic and the music pulsed throughout the rink. It was a perfect remedy for shaking off the winter blues.

          The two men in the picture stood closer to the rink and were looking towards the light, as if enthralled at a place where they could not go – a place so close, yet so far away – thus the metaphor of the rink as heaven.

          In the left side of the picture, I also noticed the concrete column. Attached to the column was a placard of rules. Yes, there are plenty of rules on earth – some more significant than others. Once on the rink, or in heaven, the rules fade away, and those who have prepared will experience the exhilaration of a fantastic new universe.

          I remembered Gretta telling me that when she was out on the ice waiting for the music to start, sometimes her knees began to shake in the silence before the crowd and the judges. To overcome her fear, she always took a deep breath, smiled at the judges and then focused on the task before her. I saw those same qualities near the end of her life as she fought the cancer and eventually as she came to terms with meeting her maker.

          It was Gretta’s character that also attracted me to her. She had a discipline and a persistence that towered above most mortals, including me. It was a discipline that was not stressful to her. It came as a natural force from within – a matter-of-fact quality that was a part of her personality.

          In her last weeks, she spent a lot of time sitting outdoors, facing into the wind with her eyes closed. To me, those were her private times with God. Whatever fear she had, she kept it within, preparing for her day of reckoning as a skater would prepare for the day in front of the judges.

          Now I know she’s up there somewhere, smiling, awash in the light, full of energy and floating across the ice, at peace with God and the universe.
Gretta skating in the light