“Free Solo Climbing Life”
Free Solo Climbing Life – Not long ago, I was talking to a park ranger at a popular rock climbing area that I frequented when younger. He told me that over the past several years, there had been four deaths resulting from young people climbing without a rope, referred to as soloing. Was, back in the day, a new movement in the rock climbing world. Prior to that time, a rock climber could gain recognition by being the first person to climb, and unclimbed rock face. Rock climbing had become so popular back then, that most of the world’s great rock faces had already been conquered. Young climbers faced the problem of how to gain recognition when there were no more virgin faces left to climb. They solved the problem by repeating the great rock faces without ropes. A few young men achieved acclaim for their solo assents. But many others fell short, literally. The great attraction of solo climbing was self-sufficiency. In order to gain a name, the climber places him or herself in a position so precariously, that he or she either makes the climb or dies. Exaltation or annihilation.
The determining factor is the strength of one’s self-sufficiency. G. Gordon Liddy, convicted Watergate conspirator, verbalized his philosophy best when he wrote, “I have found within myself all I need, and all I will ever need. I’m a man of great faith, but my faith is in George Gordon Liddy. I have never failed me.” That quote comes from Donald K. Campbell’s book, Nehemiah, Man in Charge. I admired Mr Liddy’s courage the same way I admired solo climbers, but I couldn’t help but think that both went beyond the bounds of sound judgment. Mr. Liddy was advocating that man is autonomous, and needed no higher authority than himself. Many young offenders love this kind of talk: live hard and die young is their way of saying the same thing. And many, many have fallen victim to their own kamikaze lifestyles. Many of them look for courage in drugs and alcohol to give them an empowering lift.
Drugs are equal opportunity employers and will bestow their blessings on any way who submits their influence. One young man I knew in juvenile hall, in seeking to game a name on the streets, bowed to the drugs’ influence, looked to the drugs for courage, And gained in return the sense of power and self-sufficiency his young life lacked. Soloing and life without protection, he chose to demonstrate his power in an armed robbery. He basked in power, as his victims cowered before him. He gloried in that power, as he stripped them of their valuables. And he exercise that power when he shot them. Staring at the bodies lying at his feet, his drug-induced power left him and he cried out, “Oh my God, what have I done?” What he had done was take the life of two innocent people, hospitalized two others, and eventually received a 25-year to life sentence that would cripple his own.
“I have found within myself all I need and all I will ever need,” Liddy wrote, tell that to an immature 17-year old on his way to state prison. “I have never failed me,” that he wrote, but what of this young man and others like him who have failed themselves and live daily with the guilt and the shame? Many try to find a relief from their pain the way this young 17-year old eventually did. They try to take their own lives. “From where does my help come?” Cried the Psalmist. That is the cry of the whole human race locked in pain. Is there any help? Is this empty, frustrating life all there is? Or is this crippling mire of my own self-sufficiency preventing me from experience something deeper within? The Psalmist answered his own question. “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of Heaven and Earth.”
That young man falling from his money perch of grandeur, he eventually cried out for help to God, and found the source of power he never knew existed. “The great act of faith” Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “is when man decides that he is not God. It’s only when man gives up his desire for self-sufficiency and exultation that he begins to learn to live at peace with himself and his God.” The options are not exultation and annihilation, but rather abdication and regeneration. “My grace is sufficient for you. For my strength is made perfect in weakness,” are the words of Second Corinthians 12:9. That truth became very real from my young friend. In his own words he wrote, “Without Christ, I would have killed myself long ago.”