Ignore the signs and pay the price
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Dammit! I blew it again. My body sails helplessly through the air, high above the trees and the river. I wait for the rope to save me; it feels like eternity. A little piece of metal that I wedged into a tiny, granite crack just in case of this occurrence pops out, and now I’m dropping even farther, hoping the next metal piece in the crack will hold.
Rock climbing is like life in many ways. For example, mistakes compound themselves. One little mistake added on top of another in a quick chain of events suddenly changes the stakes. What started as a fun game of cards flips around and now you’re losing the farm. The writing is often on the wall – but the warnings are easier to ignore when they are written in sentence fragments on sticky notes next to a grocery list on the fridge. In my life, it seems as soon as I’m sure crap won’t happen to me, the trap door opens under my feet. It’s tempting to quit the game after that, but no one can “quit” life (at least, not in a sane way). When the rope finally catches my whipping fall, I dangle above the South Platte River for a moment and yearn to be back on the ground – but I am committed, high on the rock face. I must go back up and find a way around the obstacle.
A friend of mine has seen almost three of my lifetimes on this earth and has made some observations that help explain some of the insanity in this world. She says that when a person fails to learn a lesson in life, he is doomed to repeat it with increasing consequences each time around. Sort of like being held back a grade in school. My friend’s theory, for example, is that a person who beats his wife has failed to resolve something emotionally somewhere along the line. Perhaps that man goes to jail after beating his wife yet he continues to coddle his anger instead of analyzing the source of that emotion, which might date back to when he was abused by his mother as a child. Let’s say that as the abused boy grew up, he got into trouble for picking fights. Eventually he became the angry man who beats his wife, goes to jail and emerged as angry as ever at the world. One day, his anger snaps so extremely that he ends up stabbed in a bar fight; the consequences have escalated to the point where he loses his life as a result of failing to learn a lesson about his anger. I have a problem with anger myself, and my friend worries that if I don’t pay attention I’ll set myself up for some really bad stuff.
On my recent day of rock climbing, I failed to make some connections. If I had learned one, I might’ve avoided the scary experience. To recap, I have now only fallen on two occasions when a piece of “protection” popped out. Both times, I’d placed the piece without paying full attention to every detail, and – interestingly – the piece that popped out is the same size, maybe even the exact piece of hardware as before. The first time happened almost 10 years ago. I was climbing strong and confident, knowing I could climb much harder than I was in that situation. And my mindset was the same when it happened Saturday. Secondly, I was not used to climbing the kind of rocks found along the South Platte. As rock type changes, so does the technique required to climb it, sort of like adapting chess strategy to address the opponent’s weakness. If I had adapted my technique to the rock, I might not have fallen in the first place. As it was, I had fallen on the little piece of protection several times as I made the repeated mistake in technique. I also failed to notice the protection piece was shifting out of place with each fall. Thus, I set myself up for a massive whipper.
Dangling on the rope for what I hope is the last time, I take a breath and tell myself out loud that I need to set aside my frustration. I sit for a moment and take in the wild surroundings. Granite-spiked hills fan out in all directions below my perch. The air is so stable that jet contrails criss-cross the open sky as if captured in a painting. My life does not seem like the nightmare it did seconds ago – the world emerges before my eyes as beautiful as ever … and I’m in the middle of it! Then I notice a key foothold sparkling on the crystalline rock face. I reset the protection piece into a better spot, pull back onto the cliff and climb perfectly above an obstacle that had given me so much trouble and gripping terror.
How else is rock climbing like life? Pay attention to the moment – that’s where everything happens.
Derek Franz can be reached at dfranz@eaglevalleyenterprise.
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