Why am I here?
It's a common thought I have, and one that revisited me just two days ago while enduring frigid temperatures and nuking winds with Charley Mace and Chris Warner en route to Mount Bancroft. It was pretty awful - frozen fingers and noses constantly peppered with ice crystals moving at 40 mph. But, at the same time, it was exactly where I wanted to be...where I needed to be.
How can something so miserable be so enticing, so welcomed, so absolutely necessary?
Because it gives us perspective. Challenge, adversity, at times misery, all help remind us of how good life can be. As the old saying goes: That which does not kill us makes us strong.
I find this perspective-through-suffering most often in the mountains, in those high, solitary places which push me to my limits mentally, physically, and emotionally. But, I also find them on my travels...travels to distant lands to visit with different peoples and cultures. Equally challenging, these travels provide me with perspective I might not gain in everyday experience in Golden, Colorado.
The challenges of the hills, and the discomforts of travel, all result in giving me a new outlook on the trials and tribulations of daily life, and a new outlook on my interactions with others:
- A blast of snow in the face on a cold day makes me appreciate the furnace in my house that much more.
- My exhaustion-racked body after a hard day in the hills makes my homemade bed that much more comfortable.
- A near death experience - averted only by a 9mm rope - makes me value every moment of life.
- A conversation, a smile, a simple interaction shared with someone from a different culture with a different language in a different place helps me realize that "as different as we are, we’re still the same".
So, for today's Thursday Thought, a few quotations on perspective gained from adversity, travel, and climbing...Enjoy!
Like the desire for drink or drugs, the craving for mountains is not easily overcome, but a mountaineering debauch, such as six months in the Himalaya, is followed by no remorse. Should such a feeling arise then one may echo Omar's cri de coeur:
Indeed, indeed, Repentance oft before I swore -
but was I sober when I swore?
Having once tasted the pleasure of living in high solitary places with a few like spirits, European or Sherpa, I could not give it up. The prospect of what is euphemistically termed "settling down", like mud to the bottom of a pond, might perhaps be faced when it became inevitable, but not yet awhile. Time enough for that when the hardships common to mountain travel - the carrying of heavy loads, the early morning starts, living or starving in the country - were no longer courted or at any rate suffered gladly.
- H.W. Tilman, When Men & Mountains Meet
And so what is the final test of the efficacy of this wilderness experience we've just been through together? Because having been there, in the mountains, alone, in the midst of solitude, and this feeling, this mystical feeling if you will, of the ultimacy of joy and whatever there is. The question is, "Why not stay out there in the wilderness the rest of your days and just live in the lap of Satori or whatever you want to call it?" And the answer, my answer to that is, "Because that's not where people are." And the final test for me of the legitimacy of the experience is, "How well does your experience of the sacred in nature enable you to cope more effectively with the problems of mankind when you come back to the city?"
And now you see how this phases with the role of wilderness, It's a renewal exercise and as I visualize it, it leads to a process of alternation. You go to nature for your metaphysical fix - your reassurance that there's something behind it all and it's good. You come back to where [people] are, to where [people] are messing things up, because [people] tend to, and you come back with a new ability to relate to your fellow [souls] and to help your fellow [souls] relate to each other.
- Willi Unsoeld
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.
- Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad
Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.
- Evan Hardin
I have not lost the magic of long days:
I live them, dream them still.
Still I am master of the starry ways,
and freeman of the hill.
Shattered my glass,
ere half the sands had run,
-I hold the heights, I hold the heights I won.
Mine still the hope that hailed me from each height,
mine the unresting flame.
With dreams I charmed each doing to delight;
I charm my rest the same.
Severed my skein, ere half the strands were spun,
-I keep the dreams, I keep the dreams I won.
What if I live no more those kingly days?
their night sleeps with me still.
I dream my feet upon the starry ways;
my heart rests in the hill.
I may not grudge the little left undone;
I hold the heights, I keep the dreams I won.
- Geoffrey Winthrop Young
Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.
- Mark Jenkins