Saturday, March 15, 2014

My Sudden Summit Obsession, Human Guides, and a Dash of Internet Fairy Dust

This week, Mr. Typist and I watched “The Summit”, a documentary about the infamous disaster on K2 in August of 2008, when eleven climbers lost their lives over the course of 48 hours due to a combination of poor leadership, incompetence, and sheer horrible luck. It was an uneven and hard-to-follow film, but it was still incredibly compelling. Since watching it, I dove down an obsessive rabbit-hole of mountaineering disaster porn, reading insatiably about deaths and calamities on the world’s highest peaks. I downloaded John Krakaurer’s “Into Thin Air” on my Kindle, read up on the basics of ice climbing and the minutia of trekking Mt. Everest, and engaged in detailed conversation with my work friend who, as it turns out, is hugely obsessed with the same topic. I don’t know where my sudden and all-encompassing fascination comes from, but I can’t stop thinking about it.

I have no interest whatsoever in climbing a mountain. I’ve always thought that people who brag about “conquering” mountains are silly at best and delusional at worst. The mountain doesn’t give a damn one way or the other. The mountain is not in competition with anyone, so the idea that one can conquer it is fueled by nothing more than deluded ego. Also, I’ve never been outdoorsy. I don’t even like eating at sidewalk cafes. I’m an indoor girl all the way, and the more ways my indoor environment allows me to shut out the world, the better. (I hate the new indoor/outdoor architectural design trend, too, but that’s a rant for another time.) The whole sub-zero cold/physical exertion/altitude sickness thing is completely unappealing. So this obsession is not coming from a repressed desire to scale Mt. Aconcagua. I think it’s related to my deep interest in the intersection of morality, human error, chance, control, and chaos. Also, I can’t get my head around the idea of volunteering for a situation in which you know you have high chance of having to make the morally ambiguous choice of leaving a distressed human being to die, because to rescue them would put more people in danger. I’m fascinated by people who are so fanatical about achieving what is essentially a meaningless goal that they would walk over a dying person to accomplish it. I don’t have all my thoughts together yet, but I’ll blog more about the topic once I have a few more books under my belt…which I will be reading in my warm abode, on my reclining couch, with the shades drawn against the elements.

I believe that if we are very, very lucky, there are people in our lives who, whether they know it or not, are assigned to watch over us. They may not start off understanding this, or even be aware of it when it’s happening, but they are the ones who appear in our moments of crisis, who guide us through our worst suffering, who always just happen to say the right thing at the right time; who are endlessly open to receive us, even in our worst state. This week, I reconnected with my own human guide. I am so deeply grateful for his presence in my life. He and his wife’s compassion and open-heartedness set me on a path to healing in the aftermath of a wrenching situation, and I only hope that I can one day be that person for someone else in need. Maybe I already am, and I’m just not meant to know it.

The internet is a scary place, but every now and then you come across a magical sprinkling of wise “words to live by” fairly dust that you simply must disseminate to others. So if you are a hyper worrier, an over-achiever, a control freak, a neurotic, a depressive, a compulsive hand-wringer, or the just plain worried well,  take heed:

"If the scope of life never extends beyond one moment, that means you never have to deal with more than one moment. You can bring all your attention and resources to bear on making the smartest move right now; there needn’t be any other considerations. This means that there are not a million things to do, or a million people to please. All you ever have to do is observe the moment that is happening, and pick an action that makes sense to you."-David Cain of

--Kristen McHenry

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