June 13, 2015

A Tribute

I'm the type of person who cries when sad. I tear up at scenes in books that break my heart. I tear up at plays, or movies, or real life situations. 

Death strikes me as a random occurrence. It picks us arbitrarily, and when it does, it has a million different faces. It's something to accept, because it's a fact of life, but difficult to swallow, because of the side effect of it: Loss. We do not lose easily. Losing makes us go crazy. We're not meant to lose. We're geared for success, all of us. It's in our DNA, our survival mechanism and the resultant pride in it. But loss is also there for us, at any stage in life. And we must learn to cope with it.

Do you know Dean Potter, the BASE jumper who spent his lifetime trying to fly? He feared death, but continued leaping, tight-roping, living his dream of safe flight, until May 16, 2015, the day he smashed to his death against a notch in a route he knew well. His friend Graham Hunt was with him; both were known to be safe, experienced flyers. Both died in the quest for flight. There's risk, and they accepted it.

How about the climbers and guides that died at Mount Kinabalu after the earthquake? Especially those children..I'm sure they're aware of the risks. Or maybe they're too young to know the risks. But they climbed anyway and I salute that. Because I think that's the gift of youth; not knowing to be afraid. Not knowing that you're stronger than you know you are. And I defend this right to discover the horizons beyond.

They were student leaders. They were developing talents, also developing characters. What's a leader who doesn't know his/her strengths and limits? What's a leader not forced out of his/her comfort zone? What's a leader not brought to the edge and taught to jump? That's why as students, they strive for the challenging and prestigious journeys. From the reports, not a single one of the students didn't look forward to the trip. This speaks highly of their eagerness to serve, of their courage and willingness to test their boundaries, displaying the same spirit that Dean Potter and Graham Hunt did throughout life. This makes their deaths more tragic. And yet, in their quest for betterment, I find myself respecting them more.

And of the teachers..their enthusiasm and willingness to defend the children, to sacrifice themselves is incredibly touching and heartbreaking in its heroism. More will be said about them as adults, but less will be known, at the same time. What will remain is the impact they've made on their friends, family, and by extension, those of us reading their stories.

Rest in peace. The climbers and the guides. I don't know any of you, probably would never have met any of you in this life, and will never cross paths with you now. But I feel the loss. The world weeps for, honors, and loves you.

I find the words of Dean Potter's ex-wife Stephanie Davis comforting today. On a wingsuit jump together, Stephanie jumped ahead of her husband. He didn't land, Stephanie did.

"I want to tell you what it feels like to fly. If you could, you would stay forever. I was in front, and he jumped right behind me. When I landed, he wasn't there. When someone disappears in a wingsuit, it means one thing. Through the excruciating hours of searching, I already knew I wouldn't see him again. I've been a full-time climber for 20 years, and I know how to endure. No one's going to get you off the mountain but you. Crying is just a waste of water. And by extension, I used this way to deal with adversity in real life. Lost your job, lost your husband, dog died? Slam in the ice tools and keep going! But enduring is really about being numb. It's about choking off all possible emotion, it's about getting the job done instead of falling apart and giving up. I thought about walking to the top of a cliff without my parachute and stepping off. It's not like I don't know how to jump off a cliff, and in Moab we have plenty of them. Leaving is final, but understanding that staying is not final really took the pressure off and made it possible for me to just keep going one minute at a time. So at first, I did what I know how to do; I endured. After a couple of months, I started to see the difference between endurance and resilience. Endurance is about holding on, resilience is about letting go. Most things in life, you don't get to choose. Most things in life, you'll never see coming. Most things in life, you don't get to keep. There's no way to avoid risk in real life, imagining you can is just wishful thinking. Nothing stays the same. Endurance works, but you can do better. What you can do is choose resilience, no matter what. I stood at the edge of a vast canyon in Arizona, I thought about the last time I flew in another life. I opened my arms and pushed off. The air filled my wings and it was all there. Freedom, wonder, pain, mystery, magic, joy. I want it all, I choose it all, I choose to fly."

Once again, Rest in peace. You will live on in our memories and in our actions, as we strive to lead our lives in the same spirit that you all have demonstrated. To those alive, may you also be at peace, and may you be resilient, for there is still this world out there for you to explore.

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