Friday, November 28, 2008
Mountain Climbers and the God Who Loves Them
Why do people tell their story? That's what I kept asking myself as I read Karen James' account of her mountain climber husband's death in her book, Holding Fast: The Untold Story of the Mount Hood Tragedy.
It's interesting how I became familiar with this story: I first heard about this tragedy on the news, and then I heard more about it when Karen James' sister-in-law came to a nearby women's conference and was going to highlight this story as the theme for the conference. The brochure let me know what the coming conference was going to be called: When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference. And where there's a collision, there's usually agony and tears. I decided not to go to the conference that year.
The thing about this story that gnaws at you the whole time you are reading the book is- why didn't God answer the prayers, the thousands of prayers that went before Him, pleading with Him to calm the continual storms that buffeted the search teams and halted them in their tracks? It seemed the more that people prayed, the more the rescue was thwarted day after day, until at the end, one climber's body, Kelly James, was found, and the two other climbers were deemed as lost.
Why did Karen James want to tell this story? Utilizing her background in journalism and PR, she painstakingly recounted the details and the days of this tragedy. I had a hard time relating to her voice, though, because I kept thinking, I could never write this way. I could never put all the photos in a book and show them to the world, indicating the magnitude of the search, the gravity of the moment, and the evidence of a personal trial so grave and gut wrenching. I could never go on a trail of clues and try to figure out what what happened to my lost and freezing husband isolated in a snow cave. I could never write about the interviews and news conferences I was doing during the search because I don't think I would be doing them.
But she was a journalist. She was functioning out of her world, her expertise, her coping skills. Everybody handles stress and tragedy in their own way. And hopefully you don't ever have to handle a tragedy such as hers. You would, though -if you married a mountain climber on a mission to find adventure and challenge at every turn. She had a husband so unlike mine that I struggled to take in his beauty of character because he also seemed so hell-bent, even if he was heaven bound. He was a believer. A kind man, a giving man. A man full of creativity and a man crawling and climbing toward danger every moment he could.
Here's where life and beliefs don't collide as much as you would think: Kelly James seemed more comfortable with the idea of a possible climbing tragedy than you would first realize. Thousands were praying for this man to be found on that mountain. But Kelly James left his own heart's desires penned on paper, and these thoughts, prayers, and poems let us know- after the fact- that Kelly James perhaps knowingly began steps to his possible death the moment he stepped on a mountain.
I'm not sure if the author meant for me to have this conclusion but I had a revelation when I read this book. The account of this tragedy is gripping. The loss of the three men is tragic. The efforts of all the search teams were heroic. And the wish of Kelly James was to climb mountains- at any cost.
Perhaps what was colliding was not God's desire to take Kelly James home to heaven verses the countless prayers that were imploring God to save him. Perhaps what collided was a man's prayer for adventure-even-unto-death with the prayers of many who requested a rescue. It was clear in this book that Kelly James' heart felt desire was to challenge limits. He was a man who could not "resist the lure of adventure", who was "absorbed by challenge & to a certain extent, Danger."
This is what amazed me and surprised me in this book: that the author would share so boldly the inner conflict of life and death in her mountain climber husband's soul. He loved adventure, danger, and perhaps the very outskirts of death- and we see this by the poems and bits of writing she shares with us. She talks about what God's purpose was, concerning her husband's death. But perhaps there is also this unspoken message as well: mountain climber Kelly James had a purpose to live a life climbing mountains, defying the odds of survival until one day the mountain defied his wish to live and climb and survive.
This isn't a book to read if you are looking for a good ending, a moralistic account of how to get God to answer prayer, or even how to be a noble Christian living a quiet godly life. What I found at the end of the book was that I got a glimpse into the life of a man who I don't understand at all. I don't understand the need for danger, the risks, the ice and the snow and the altitude of his passion. But I understand that he believed in God, that he loved his family, and that he was undivided in his quest to go higher while holding fast at the same time.
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