Broken, sort of

Melissa O’Brien

My son, Sam, posted a video to his Instagram account the other day. It’s what he and his tribe call an edit, I think, a compilation of pieces of footage of him skiing this winter, put to music. A short little clip that shows him flying through the air, doing flips and spins and such.

Sam has been like this as long as I have known him. He laments in the post that he has a broken bone and his season is over. It’s the first time in 19 years of cliff jumping, freestyle skiing, trampolining, motor crossing, tree climbing and roof jumping that he’s broken anything—which is really remarkable. His brother, Nate, who is the most gentle creature to walk this earth, has suffered a broken arm, hernia repair, breakage of his front teeth…five times, a severe injury from a sledding accident, and appendix removal. I may have forgotten something in that lineup, there have been so many hours spent in hospitals with Nate.

In the video Sam is wearing a sweatshirt—hoodie, sorry—with the word Broken on it. It’s a very cool logo for a company he’s working on with some of his friends in school in Lake Tahoe. Sam is studying in a program for ski area management at Sierra Nevada College, and he chose that school after thinking about his options and working hard for two years after he graduated from high school. He waited until he had a better sense of what he wanted to do with his life, which was no easy feat during the time when his buddies were yucking it up on campus with beer bongs on the weekends while he was parking cars at the Stowe Mountain Lodge. He found the school for him with the program he wanted, applied, got accepted along with a substantial scholarship, and off he went, into a life that suits him very well.

I watched this video over and over. If Sam knew that about 100 of the 300 or so views were from his mom, he’d cringe. I really couldn’t believe that Sam is the guy he is, that he can do those things with his body, that he has a heart that wants so much for him to be in motion, soaring, in places where it’s winter. He hates summer. 

Sam and his friends are no slackers as is commonly the sense folks have of his generation. They study, ski, compete in freestyle skiing events, make films and have started a clothing manufacturing company. Many of them have jobs, too, supporting themselves through college. 

Who is this guy and where did he come from?

Well, in part, he came from here. Sam spent a significant chunk of his growing-up years here in Charlotte, influenced, no doubt, by the close proximity to the lake, the nearness of the woods, the short drive to the mountains, and the good people who became his friends. I have been thinking a lot about this lately, about the amazing things that our Charlotte kids are doing out in the world. I keep track of the kids who grew up in our little Whalley Road neighborhood, but I know full well that lots of our young ones are now out there making music and building things and helping people and racing cars and climbing mountains and starting nonprofits.

There is a very brief moment in the video of Sam when he’s actually skiing, both skis on the ground, and he is carving a turn, his hand is touching the snow. He’s headed, no doubt, for his next launch, but it’s a rare bird of a moment when I can see him skiing in the way that’s familiar to me. I wish I could still that moment, it’s grace in motion, and it fills me with awe. And I know that all of you who are parents of kids who are out in the world doing beautiful things have felt similar moments, when you look at these kids, now young adults and wonder…how did that happen?

I want to start writing about our Charlotte kids and the ways they’re manifesting their gifts in the world. Take a moment, please, and drop me a line at [email protected] and let me know where your son or daughter is, what they’re up to and if we could profile them in a future issue.

As a brief aside, the Samuel bird broke his wing skiing and had surgery on Tuesday. I asked him if he needed me to go out to help him in recovery. He said no, “my friends have my back and my teachers are being super helpful.”

Bitter. Sweet. Amen.