Saturday, January 3, 2009

Touching the Void

A while ago a friend recommended the above mentioned documentary to me. Somehow I had managed to miss Joe Simpson's popular book of the same title that had been translated into sixteen languages.

My friend said that, while the documentary was faithful to the book, the book's first person account had a different quality to it, and it was worthwhile taking in both of them. Having watched the documentary, I now am half way through the book. I agree that they both are excellent. However, if you have time for only one of them, the movie certainly is a quicker (and still very compelling) way of accessing the information.

In 1985 two young British mountaineers were the first (and so far only) people to summit the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. Soon after starting their descent, Joe Simpson broke his leg. This was a virtual death sentence. Nonetheless, his climbing companion, Simon Yates, made the choice not to abandon him but to lower him in stages with the use of a 300-foot rope.

But there came a point at which Joe dropped over an overhang and was dangling in the air. Simon had no choice but to cut the rope and consign Joe to a certain death. The only other option would have been to let gravity pluck them both off the mountain.

Miraculously, Joe's fall did not kill him. His lone struggle to reach help is one of the most gripping accounts in the history of alpine mountaineering.

It just happened that I watched the documentary at a time when I was scared out of my senses by developments in my own life (my financial situation, etc.). The documentary helped me to put my problems into perspective. Frightening as they seemed to me, my challenges were by no means life threatening.

There seemed to be another parallel between Joe's situation and mine. There was no safe way out of his bind. If he was to have the remotest chance of survival, Joe had to embrace even greater danger.

Although my position was nothing like as precarious as Joe's, it sure felt terrifying to me. I felt as if I was plunging into an abyss. Consequently, my friend's recommendation of Touching the Void was very timely.

I am glad I chose to follow my bliss. I don't feel as if I am out of the woods yet. But there is no comparison between the quality of life I am enjoying now and that which I was experiencing while I supposedly was "safe." I am living in such a profoundly different mental and emotional space that I may as well be on another planet.

I used to be such a wuss but, in following my heart, I now have displayed courage. Interestingly enough, the English word, courage, comes from the Old French word, cuer, which means heart.

1 comment:

Allium said...

An inspiring and touching story, indeed!