Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The View from the Top is Worth the Climb by Michele Ashman Bell

Several years ago I was driving North on I-15 toward downtown Salt Lake City. Traffic was heavy and I was paying close attention to the road ahead of me but happened to glance over as I passed a billboard with a man's picture on it. He looked like he was sitting on top of a mountain. I happened to catch two words before I looked forward again. The first was Everest, and the second was blind. Those two words didn't seem to go together, but I was certain that's what the billboard said. That evening, when I returned home, I went to my computer. I hadn't been able to forget about the billboard. I Googled the words blind and Everest and what came up was a story that changed my life.
Erik Weihenmayer lost his vision when he was 13 years old. Consequently he had to relearn how to do everything. His father suggested he enroll in a class that taught wall climbing. Bravely, Erik took the class and discovered that not only was he good at climbing, but it provided him with a feeling of accomplishment and freedom. His fingers became his eyes and as he felt his way to the top he felt he was connecting the dots. This led to bigger and harder climbs until he became an expert climber. Still, imagine the response he got when he said he wanted to climb Mt. Everest!
Most people doubted that he could do it. Everest was hard enough to climb sighted, let alone blind! But Erik didn't let people's doubts discourage him from going for his dream. He said, "people judge me by what I can't do, instead of what I can."
Luckily he had several people who did believe in him and support this dream and Erik put together a team of climbers to help him reach this lofty, if not impossible, goal.
As the climb began, Erik used several techniques to help him up the mountain. His greatest tool though was to follow the sound of a bell, carried by the climbers in front of him, and he relied on the encouragement of the climbers behind him.
The path up Mt. Everest is strewn with giant boulders and sheer thousand foot drops. Some of the chasms were spanned by several ladders tied together, which the climbers crossed, while the ladders swayed in the wind.
Ninety percent of the climbers who attempt Everest don't make it to the summit. But Erik and his team made it to Camps Two, Three and Four.
At Camp Four, preparing to head for the summit, a storm came in that almost dashed their hopes. With the lack of oxygen and the frigid temperature, most of the climbers face masks had fogged over, at which point, all of them were climbing blind. They almost had to turn back, but then, one of the climbers was able to see a star through the clouds. They continued to push on to the South Summit, with a 10,000-foot vertical fall into Tibet on one side, and a 7,000-foot fall into Nepal on the other. South Summit is often where climbers turn back. Hillary Step, a 39-foot rock face, is the last obstacle before reaching the true summit of Everest.
Erik made the final climb up the Hillary Step and then . . . there was no where else to go. He was at the top of the world. As Erik Weihenmayer stood there, he knew he was standing there because of the determination and passion, but also because of the great support and encouragement from those who believed in him and helped him.
Many of us are facing Mt. Everests in our lives, or have even conquered a few already. Emotional mountains, spiritual mountains, and physical mountains wait in front of us, daring us to conquer them. Sometimes we feel as though we are climbing blind. It is at that point that we have to follow the guidance of the spirit and the promptings that help us along the path. We can also rely upon those who are behind us, giving us support and encouragement, loved ones and friends who want to see us reach our goals and our dreams. The path can get hard along the way, it can even seem as if it is impossible to continue. We may feel like our only choice is to turn around and quit. But, if we will stop, and look hard enough, we will see that one small star in the stormy sky and know, we can make it.
And then, when we stand on the summit and look out, we will be able to see the splendor and glory of all our hard work. We will be so glad we didn't turn around because the view from the top is worth the climb.


Cheri J. Crane said...

Beautiful post, Michele. =) I saw that same billboard and wondered what the story was behind it. Thank you for taking the time to research it and share it.

I loved your analogy.

Gale Sears said...

What an amazing post, Michele.
Thank you for your words of insight. I just love stories that tell me I can make it in spite of great obsticles.

Jeri Gilchrist said...

I was lucky enough to hear Michele give a talk to a group of women and she spoke a bit about this story. It was incredible.
Michele, I love your insight and the courage you give to others. You make us feel like we can make it no matter what we are facing. It is only one of your many gifts. Thank you for sharing.