Another person’s life gone in the mountains. It happened to someone who was loved, revered, and skilled. And now they are gone. How many people in my life have gotten that call? The heart crushing news that someone who was here yesterday is now gone. In that space, after the call, there is nothing but emptiness and a deep longing for something different.
When things like this happen Neil and I talk, was it worth it to die like that? We struggle with this existential question. We made a living from being in the mountains. Now we choose the inner ranges of people’s minds and bodies, which sometimes can be riskier but our lives are in less immediate danger, from avalanches, falling boulders and rappelling off our rope ends.
Yet we still value what the mountains teach us. And at this moment, they teach us to love this day, this life, and this person – as we never know if we will have this present moment again. This is why we do the inner work. To be able to say as we die, I lived. Each moment I was given, I felt. Every person in front of me I saw, for their struggles, their joys and as they were.
If I knew then, I could find as much adventure in seeing people, for what they are trying to do outside of their obvious behaviors, I would not have believed it; and would have gone into the mountains and enjoyed my experience. But hindsight is 20/20, and looking back with the eyes I have now there was a lot that I missed about those experiences. I missed being present in each unfolding moment. And really, that is life.
Now we have children. We take them into the mountains. We take calculated risks as a family. We teach our kids to be present to the trees and rivers, to love the mountains and to engage fully in physical pursuits. We often questions our choices about turning them onto a mountain loving life at such a young age. What will they be able to do when they are 16, 20, 27? Far more than we could, and that might be things more dangerous than we did. Is that ok?
Yes. The resounding sound I hear is yes. And a deep knowing that someday we might get a call. An empty longing call, that there’s been an accident. And we will mourn. And grieve. And life will never be the same again.
But “the world is too compassionate to stop for us” says David Whyte. Our one mournful cry is what we have to offer the world at that time. And the yet world stands with us if we can feel it. The trees offer their selfless presence. The rivers still sound if we can hear them. The wind still moves across the mountains and through the leaves. And in those moments we are more present, either to our pain or to what still lives. And that is a moment of living.
So to all of you that have gotten, or will get that call, no matter how it comes, life is calling you to feel it. To know that part of the gift of life is death. Can we live each moment, even the most painful ones knowing that the person that is gone had lived? And life and death is complex and messy. Yet the mountains stand with us, the snow still falls and there is something comforting about the things that remain the same.