The nature and mystery of determination |

The nature and mystery of determination

Michael Bennett
Mike Bennett

Determination. Why would I want to attend the 5Point Film Festival to watch a bunch of outdoors films last Saturday? I only have a minor interest in extreme outdoor activities. But I was determined to go and I’m glad I did.

I saw two films that demonstrated amazing determination: “Drawn,” Jeremy Collins’ film that turned into a four-year project and “Jeff Lowe’s Metanoia.”

Think about the effort it takes for both the mother and child during birth. We are born with great determination. Think about what it takes to learn all of the traits of a human being in early years of life. Talking, walking and learning the skills to get through life require an enormous amount of energy for both the child and the parents.

As we age, some of us lose a bit of that determination. That certainly hasn’t been the case with Jeff Lowe. While the name was new to me, I learned that Lowe was a pioneer in mountaineering from the early 1970s through the early ‘90s. He has over 1,000 challenging first ascents to his credit. He has mastered climbing rock, ice and snow in hazardous conditions.

Granted, like all of us he is human. And as the film pointed out, as determined a climber Lowe was, the same determination was not apparent in his relationships or business ventures, areas of his life that were challenges.

When his business ventures were on the ropes in 1991, he did the unimaginable in climbing, creating a new direct route on Elger’s north face in the Swiss Alps … in the dead of winter. In doing so he ran out of rope, left his pack behind and completed his journey. Part of the film included another climber following the same route 20 years later to recover Lowe’s pack.

Through old film clips, “Metanoia” chronicled Lowe’s life from childhood. His hippie-like good looks made him a chick magnet and he pursued his passion to climb most of his life. In 2000 he began to face undetermined physical challenges and was finally diagnosed in 2008 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly know as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

The determination to reach new heights and pioneering new paths throughout his life can be seen by Lowe’s determination to live with ALS. Even after being diagnosed, he made climbs and remains active in that community to this day.

Credits at the end of the film indicated Lowe was in hospice care. After the film, we were told that not only was Lowe no longer in hospice care but in fact he was in Carbondale joining us that very moment.

Lowe came out on the stage on his wheelchair with his partner, Connie Self, for a Q&A session. While the disease has made it nearly impossible for him to speak, he used his iPad to communicate with the audience.

When it was over, I sat there in awe. Sure, his feats on the mountain have been impressive, but I was really struck with the courage Lowe showed as he lived life to the fullest possible with a debilitating disease.

I like to whine and complain with the best of them. This was one of those moments that make you stop and think about your life. Here is a man who chose to put his life at risk for adventure. That was his passion. And then he lost the ability to climb, but his determination shined through as he chose to make the most out of his life despite ALS.

When I was about 8 years old, my dad took my brother and me to Walter Reed Hospital to visit a great uncle. As we left, we walked through a ward of amputees. They were joking, playing cards and generally having a good time. In their way, these men were determined to live the life they could. As we approached the door, my dad turned to us and told us to look around. “Life could be worse,” he said. Those words and images have lingered with me my entire life.

Why is it that some people give up easily on life and others embrace it in the face of mounting adversity?

Michael Bennett is publisher of the Post Independent.

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