Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Cost of "Everything"

Long's Peak Dihedral

You'd think mountain climbing would be so adventurous that Hollywood just couldn't stay away from it. According to my memory, though, there really haven't been a great many films that did the job well. For one thing, climbing is something you do and then talk about later. Movies need plot and dialogue -- watching two guys crawl up the face of The Diamond on Long's Peak in relative silence for an hour has limited audience appeal.

So, filmmakers create stories that include enough climbing to make things look dangerous. For example, The Eiger Sanction (1975) has Clint Eastwood as a professional hit man qua art professor scaling the Eiger in Switzerland. Cliffhanger (1993) depicts Silvester Stallone struggling with guilt over a failed rescue attempt of another climber. K2 (1991) with Matt Craven and Michael Biehn is loosely based on a real-life ascent of the world's second highest peak.

I like K2 very much and not simply because it does a pretty good job with the mountaineering aspect. I like the dynamics between the characters, one of whom is a wealthy attorney and the other a scientist. Best of friends, they are opposites as

K2 in summer.

one might expect. The attorney is an extroverted womanizer for whom success comes easily while his friend is introverted, married, has a son, and values stability.

A key point in their relationship occurs when Craven's character has broken his leg on their return to base camp after gaining the peak. Fearing he must leave his friend to die on the mountain, Biehn laments having built his career on things that possess no real significance: "I go climbing with you in order to have some dignity in my life." Fully expecting to die, Craven responds, "I got everything I wanted, but I had to give up everything to get it."

True, the dialogue may sound melodramatic, but that doesn't eliminate its truth. There are those who seem naturally suited to achievement and who accomplish it with ease. Some of us, however, for reasons eluding reason, find the path crooked and frequently blocked by obstacles no one could anticipate. We have to pause, regroup, find alternate routes, reinvent ourselves, and in the process discover resources within that we never knew existed.

I have a dear friend who has said recently, it's not the struggles themselves, but the way we meet them that defines our lives. We might envy those for whom, like Biehn's character, life appears incredibly straightforward. But I admire those who, like my friend, meet challenges with determination and the persistent refusal to stop trying. Instead of assigning blame or cursing fate, they're all heart: they dig deep and accept responsibility. They may have to give up a lot in the process, and perhaps it does feel like "everything," but what they gain is incomparable.

(Image The Diamond on Long's Peak by eggheadsherpa via Flickr; Image of K2 via Wikipedia)
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