Photograph by Hillary Maybery

Rants of a Raconteur

Words by Ryan Waterfield, Editor 

“Hope is being able to see the light despite all the darkness.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu

All I want right now is silence. And stillness.

In the wake of the organized attacks on Paris, I sit a world away in Sun Valley, Idaho, putting the finishing touches on our Winter 2016 issue of BigLife. I scan pictures of après ski parties. We carefully choose words for captions and decide on the cover. I take a final read of stories that I’ve been looking forward to for months. And I feel empty.

In the face of unspeakable but undeniable horror, this big life we honor feels small. I ache for the parents who lost children, young or old, in the attacks. And that is just the tip of the ache.

I remember being a teacher during the 9/11 attacks and sitting in a classroom of ninth graders as we learned that a plane flew into the Pentagon. I remember the weight of responsibility I felt being the one adult in the room, helping these young people navigate the horror of terrorism as it unfolded in front of us that day.

September 11, 2001 is seared into our collective memory. And France is reeling from a similar violation—a trespass so strong that the ground underneath us shakes from uncertainty, anguish, and fear.

As I thumb through the draft of our magazine (the one you are now holding in your hands), I temper my anger. I remember what I learned on 9/11 with all those ninth graders looking to me for some semblance of calm and order. I remember that fear and hate come all too easily and that hope is hard to hold onto as we digest a daily diet of destruction.

From the current refugee crisis to the coordinated attacks in Paris, it feels more and more like the center cannot hold and that we have two choices—let the waves of hopelessness and trauma overtake us or swim. I choose to swim.

I went into teaching many years ago because I understood the power that stories had to shape who we become. I pursued writing because I wanted to put power behind my own stories, like wind in a sail, and let them go to face the unknown waters ahead. And I publish this magazine now, still energized by the power that stories have to help us be our best selves—and I know that our best selves are only possible when we see the light despite all the darkness.

In this issue we choose light over darkness.

We remember that at the core of our mountain towns is a belief that we’re all in this together and that if one of our own stumbles, we should all help her back up.

The international world has been rocked by tragedies lately and those impact each of us in different ways. But our small towns have lost on a grand scale as well—and here are just a few.

This fall, Park City and the competitive ski world lost Sam Jackenthal, a 16-year- old Junior National Champion who was training in Australia when he suffered a fatal head injury. His longtime coach, Chris “Hatch” Haslock remembered him by saying, “Sam was meant to fly.”

The Sun Valley area felt the passing of Dan Freeman, a father, a husband, a farmer, and a musician beloved for his humor and his kind heart. And Dani Stern, a mother and wife also beloved for her warmth and generosity who fought cancer for years. And recently, a 14-year-old boy committed suicide. There are no words to hold the sorrow.

I didn’t know any of them personally. But that’s the thing about these small towns, we share in the joy and the sorrow that our neighbors experience. It’s how we respond to these tragedies—the personal as well as the national and international ones—that tell a story about who we are.

Most of us gravitate to the mountains because we find joy and freedom there. But we also balance that joy with the knowledge that inevitably mountains—like life—deal us devastation.

So, I read a story about three mountaineers making the most of their second chance at Meru and I remember that hope is what carries us. And then I read about the way Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has shaped the people who have skied, lived, and rebelled there. And I remember that joy is what elevates us. And I read a story about Olympic hopefuls training in Park City and I remember that dreams are what shape us.

So, in the face of tragedies, we keep telling stories to fill the silence. And with each story, we create a crack to let the light in.