The other day I watched the movie Everest. It’s about a 1996 climbing expedition where 19 people set out to scale the world’s tallest peak and – through a series of miscommunications and misfortunes – 8 of them ended up dying there.
I expected it to be just another adventure story. I only agreed to watch it because it was a movie my husband was willing to sit through, but I found myself deeply affected by it. I still can’t stop thinking about it, actually, and I’m not sure why.
I am left with a deep, visceral grief. A feeling of almost being there with those brave Souls and of having lost someone close to me. Yet, that’s not quite it either.
There’s a place in the movie – the night before they begin their ascent – that they are sitting around in a tent and enter into a conversation about Why they do this. All of them experienced climbers with many successful ascents under their belts, the natural question comes forward: Why do this? Why the highest, most dangerous peak with a great chance of not making it or even dying in the attempt?
The answers they gave were not really answers at all. “Because it is there,” one said.
“Because at home I have this cloud of depression hanging over me and out here… there isn’t,” said another.
“For these elementary school children who helped me raise money to come this time. It’s my third try and I haven’t made it to the top yet. I guess I just wanted to show them that an ordinary guy can do a really extraordinary thing,” said the third.
I was deeply unsettled by their responses. Already knowing a bit about how the story ends, I said to my husband, “I would have to have a MUCH better reason than any of those to do something like that. There is NOTHING inside of me that is compelled to do ANYTHING like that.”
And as these men (and one woman) risked everything to make their way to touch the top of the tallest point on the planet – some acting heroically, some cowardly, some sacrificing themselves for another, others surviving by fiercely caring only for themselves, I found myself captivated. And grief stricken, and compelled.
Days later I find myself thinking about them. As if they were close friends who just recently died. I’ve become so curious about why this is stirring me so.
And as I drop in, I realize that of course they are me and I am them.
Though my form of unfathomable edge-pushing and calamitous edge-walking typically occurs in the spiritual realm rather than the physical; we are brethren in our penchant for Laying It All on the Line. With a loose regard for living and dying (and all the ways that can occur between the metaphorical and the actual,) we are impelled to push beyond the limits that constrain us. To scale the highest summits in service of knowing the nature of our Being at the deepest levels.
Willing to leave a trail of carnage in our wake – friends, partners, lovers unable to summit with us. Those less prepared for the journey who turn back or make way for safer ground. Parts of ourselves that we once thought vital to our existence – cast away, leaving only the Essential Elements remaining.
It is a grueling and often excruciating journey.
And also infinitely enlivening and wondrous.
I am discovering that the Why of it is irrelevant. I wanted them to have a better reason. I wanted to understand why they do what they do and have it make sense to me on a cognitive level.
Yet as a fellow Soul Explorer, I already know this Why… in another way.
It lives in the marrow of my bones. It animates the structure of my cells and serves as the very foundation of the coding of my DNA.
Resisting this evolutionary pulse in favor of placating a loved one who wishes me to stay home and abandon the call of the thin air at the highest peaks, is akin to asking me to stop breathing. It is impossible to honor them with such a concession.
I wish I had a Why that made sense to either of us.
Yet it seems that those rare few who are of My Kind are a special band of sojourner. We know each other by the light in our eyes and the incontrovertible Yes in our step. We are willing to break your heart and our own – even (and perhaps because) our chances of “making it” are
infinitesimally small. And once we reach the top we’ll just turn around and go back down to begin again.
The only Why that makes any sense ringing through every cell of our Being.
We were made for This.